Tuesday, 23 December 2014

CIRCLE OF LIFE: A NIGHT OF MUSICALS / The Philharmonic Winds / Review

The Philharmonic Winds
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (21 December 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 23 December 2014 with the title "Expressive voices in a colourful Life".

There was a time when the songs most people knew by heart came from the operas. Today these are more likely to be pop songs or numbers from musicals, the lighter modern form of musical theatre. In a similar vein, the wind band has evolved from the “oom-pa-pa” marching variety to the more versatile concert band, which employs woodwinds, brass and percussion like a symphony orchestra. Add the jazzy big band element, the results can be surprisingly sophisticated.

This evening’s concert by The Philharmonic Winds conducted mostly by its Music Director Leonard Tan merged all these threads for a two-and-a-half hour showcase of popular tunes from the musicals. There cannot be any persons who do not recognise songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera or Schonberg and Boublil’s Les Miserables.

Familiarity was key to the large audience enjoying the performances, which included medleys in slicked up arrangements by wind band specialists Johan de Meij, Marcel Peeters and local transcribers Ong Jiin Joo, Yap Sin Yee and Syawal Kassim. The playing was polished for most part, a reflection of the ensemble’s discipline and players’ prowess. A certain degree of freedom or extroversion would have also been welcome.

At times the music felt repetitious, such as the medley from Schonberg and Boublil’s Miss Saigon, conducted by veteran wind-meister Luk Hoi Yui, which seemed to go on for too long without even covering all the hit melodies.

The music also cried out for voices, and these arrived with Benjamin Kheng, Tay Kexin and Gani Karim. Kheng and Tay opened in Seasons of Love from Jonathan Larson’s Rent, and the former emoted with a fair degree of expression in Hopelessly Devoted To You from John Farrar’s Grease.  Although he was amplified, Kheng was almost drowned out in Circle of Life from Elton John’s The Lion King, with the band and 12 percussionists behind him.

Karim’s crooning in Bunga Sayang from Kampung Amber came close to cracking up given the angst invested in it, reminded by the memory of the late Iskandar Ismail who had arranged all the Dick Lee songs. Tay was just as convincing in When All The Tears Have Dried from Sing To The Dawn. The threesome united for the popular Beauty World (Cha-Cha-Cha) with its infectious Latin American beat to close in a burst of colourful ticker-tape.

A short encore, from the musical Hairspray, gave the audience a chance to clap along. This drew the most unbuttoned playing of the evening, a worthy herald to the coming festive season.  

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