Thursday, 25 December 2014

CLASSIQUES! CHOEUR / Philharmonic Youth Winds / Review

Philharmonic Youth Winds
Esplanade Concert Hall
Tuesday (23 December 2014)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 25 December 2014 with the title "Youth Winds show mettle".

Just two short days after The Philharmonic Winds gave its concert of light songs from the musicals, its junior counterpart Philharmonic Youth Winds performed a programme of serious classics. This was not a case of friendly rivalry, but rather a show of ambition, that the young ones could very well stand on its own.

The longer first half led by guest conductor Chan Tze Law opened with Donald Hunsberger’s transcription of J.S.Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor. Its arresting beginning was spot on cue and intonation, and there was to be no timidity in the winds’ and brass’ blazing entries. Despite the reverberant acoustics and long-held pedal points, the playing was clear and articulate, best typified in the complex fugue taken at a blistering pace.

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s principal tuba player Hidehiro Fujita was soloist in the fiendishly tricky Bass Tuba Concerto of Vaughan Williams. How the lowest pitched and bulkiest of all blown instruments was made to sound this agile and nimble was testament to Fujita’s virtuosity. In the central Romance, he made the instrument sing and in the folkdance inspired finale, acrobatics were again on show in the cadenza before an emphatic but quick flourish to end.

His encores included a comedy-filled set of variations on The Blue Bells Of Scotland, which traversed the complete range of the tuba and a solo improvisation on the Christmas song which begins I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus.

The Vocal Associates Festival Chorus joined in for Masato Sato’s arrangement of Ravel’s Daphnis And Chloe Ballet Suite No.2. Anyone who doubts that a wind band could engage its quiet, rustling evocation of dawn, filled with bird songs, will be pleasantly surprised here. The flute solos were excellent, and the playing of the ensemble sensitive to various nuances and shades building up to the orgiastic Danse Generale.

One would have hoped for an even larger choir to fill up the entire gallery section. Good as the voices were, they were no match in volume generated by the instrumentalists. This was also apparent in the Triumphal March from Verdi’s Aida, which was boosted by children’s voices. Here the trumpet section held sway in the victorious procession of General Radames. 

The second half was conducted by Music Director Adrian Chiang, climaxing in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture arranged by Yoshihiro Kimura. The chorus trained by Khor Ai Ming had more than a fighting chance in its a cappella opening God Preserve Thy People sung in Russian. They did so with requisite gusto and in the folksong At The Gate, as the battle of Borodino escalated.

Tautly knit together, this was an impressive performance that raised the roof when the French La Marseillaise and Russian anthem God Save The Tsar clashed amid the din of cannon shots and tolling bells. Ending the concert on a festive note was an audience sing-along in Leroy Anderson’s A Christmas Festival, with hymns like Joy To The World, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and O Come All Ye Faithful filling the air. Two nights before Christmas, this made for a most appropriate and cheerful send-off.   

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