Tuesday, 24 June 2014

STRINGFELLOWS / T'ang Quartet and Friends / Review

T’ang Quartet & Friends
Esplanade Recital Studio
Sunday (22 June 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 24 June 2014 with the title "Fab Four find perfect pairing in foursome".
After some 22 years in business as Singapore’s only full-time chamber group, the T’ang Quartet can still be counted upon to turn informality into an art form. This latest concert saw them transform Esplanade Recital Studio into café culture, with the placement of quirkily colourful chairs, furniture and props dressed up like giant confections.

The audience was encouraged to sit closer up to the performers and be part of the musical tableaux. Teabags with the Stringfellows brand were handed out, but alas after the concert, so nobody was able to sip the brew while enjoying the music.

The foursome was joined by four female colleagues, who had their turns in all the works performed. Violist Thian Ai Wen and cellist Elizabeth Tan Su Yin partnered T’ang violinists Ng Yu Ying and Ang Chek Meng in Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade which began the afternoon concert. Unusually sunny for the moody Austrian lieder composer who ended his days in an insane asylum, the performance radiated much warmth as the genial music smiled from ear to ear.

Far more serious was the Quartettsatz (Quartet Movement) by Franz Schubert, another syphilitic master of the Lied displaying a more tragic side to his affable melodies. Violinists Tang Tee Tong and Lillian Wang together with the Tang sibs, violist Lionel Tan and cellist Leslie Tan, found a near-perfect characterisation for this short work. Amid the dramatic dark clouds of life, there may be found slivers of beauty, even humanity.

Then it was three men and three women in Alexander Borodin’s uncompleted Sextet in D minor. Although its two movements were neither typically Russian in feel nor quoted Slavic folksongs, there was a nevertheless a palpable sense of tension and melancholy generated, balanced by lovely sonorities in the committed playing.

The concert reached an emotional high with eight musicians uniting in Mendelssohn’s extraordinarily crafted String Octet, composed as a precocious 16-year-old. All had separate parts, but were led by first violinist Ng, whose virtuosic role resembled the solo of a concerto. Unerring throughout, his vitality was infectious and immediately shared by his fellow players.

The long first movement was gripping in its intensity and the spirit never flagged. A strong sense of cohesion was maintained in the slow movement, before flitting into feathery lightness for the popular Scherzo. The finale was a tour de force of optimism and positivity, reinforced by the repeated quote from Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, as if echoing a personal and spiritual triumph.

For the audience who quietly and attentively sat through the concert’s 70 minutes without intermission, the ending came almost all too soon. Another chamber concert of this calibre is well worth waiting for.  

Concert photographs by courtesy of Aloysius Lim. 

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