Monday, 13 October 2014


Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Victoria Concert Hall
Friday (10 October 2014)          

This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 October 2014 with the title "Sweet, intoxicating music on overdrive".

What a pleasure it is to return to the friendly and welcoming atmosphere of the newly renovated Victoria Concert Hall, the true home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. The historical venue holds fond memories for many who have attended concerts (and performed) here. A collegial air prevails where the audience feels close to the performers, and visitors are not subjected to intrusive and demeaning bag checks.

One thing that has not been completely fixed is the acoustics. With the carpeting removed and the stage extended, there has been a tendency for orchestral performances to sound over bright and hyper-brilliant. Romantic era symphonies are rendered plethoric and over-reverberant, hence the preference to perform chamber-sized works here becomes a priority.

The orchestra needed to perform Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No.3 is probably the largest outfit that can comfortably fit onto its stage. And what a big sound its opening note was, with a terrific thwack produced on the timpani. Listen further on and one becomes impressed with the full-bodied sonority drawn from the orchestra. Individual details such as Jin Ta’s flute solo or May Yue’s clarinet solo are clear as crystal, while Jon Paul Dante’s pivotal off-stage trumpet solo becomes the most memorable moment.   

A different soundscape exists for Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen, scored for 23 string instruments with individual parts. A requiem for the destruction of Germany’s cultural landmarks during the Second World War, its funereal pace was enhanced by the reverberation provided.

Few of the 23 perform at a given moment, but each stood out on their own right. When the individual layers coalesced leading to its feverish climax when all the players were at full tilt, the effect was simply awe-inspiring. The depth of catharsis yielded and the little quote of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony at its end sealed a thoroughly absorbing outing.

The concert led by SSO Principal Guest Conductor Okko Kamu closed with Mendelssohn’s youthful Concerto in D minor for Violin and Piano. Composed at a tender age of 14, it relies on an over-abundance of exuberant flourishes and multitudes of notes through its 40 minute duration. To this end, the soloists, violinist Kam Ning and pianist Albert Tiu, obliged with a whole-hearted generosity and quite stunning accuracy.  

Precocity does not necessarily equate with maturity in this work, as the music which strongly drew from Mozartian eloquence and grace soon went on hyper-drive. The perfumed melodies became over-scented while sweetness bordered on cloying in the slow movement. With both violinist and pianist revelling in scintillating high speeds in the outer movements, it seemed too much of a good thing.

The orchestra supported the venture well, and even with augmentation by winds in this version, it never came close to overwhelming the soloists. As if to further pat themselves on the back, Kam and Tiu gave an encore that was even faster: Intoxication, a rag by John Novacek. This count of drunk-driving was not awarded a ticket, but a fulsome round of applause. 

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