Monday, 14 December 2015


Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Victoria Concert Hall
Friday (11 December 2015)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 December 2015 with the title "Home for Christmas with the SSO at Victoria Concert Hall".

It is that time of the year again, and there are few things more festive than the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's Christmas Concerts. A return to Victoria Concert Hall, to its cosier confines, provided that touch of nostalgia which Esplanade could never hope to replicate. This was certainly helped by SSO Associate Conductor Jason Lai, who played engaging and chatty host, and broke the ice almost immediately.

The concert began with a procession by the Singapore Symphony Children's Choir (SSCC), its little members carrying electric candles while singing Veni Veni Emmanuel. It started on a unison before splitting into rich polyphony. The orchestra then obliged with the Overture to Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, its Angel's Prayer segment filled with the glorious warmth of C major. 

Unlike Christmas concerts of old, the audience sing-along was not relegated to the very end, but spread out through the concert. Getting usually passive listeners to stand up to belt out the carols like Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and The First Noel was a good idea, and boredom was never an option. The children also added It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year and John Rutter's Christmas Lullaby, both sung beautifully, before closing with Leroy Anderson's sparkling Sleigh Ride.

The second half featured a narrated work with former SSO Education Officer Joseph Lee doing the honours for Philip Lane's The Night Before Christmas. Although he was amplified, some of the words were barely audible over the orchestra's maneuvers.

No such worries from the adults of the Singapore Bible College Chorale which sang in the second half. They offered Rutter's arrangements of In Dulci Jubilo, I Saw Three Ships and the best original choral work of all, Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo's Serenity (O Magnum Mysterium). This was conducted by its choirmaster Joel Navarro, and featured a lovely solo from cellist Yu Jing. The a cappella voices rose to a sublime high, its echoes ringing in the ears even after the work had ended.

Through the course of the concert, there were also humorous projected video clips, including a Singapore version of The Twelve Days Of Christmas featuring local dishes which saw conductor Lai coming down with dyspepsia. He was also on hand to conduct a couple of games, which involved the audience and people actually winning some prizes.

When one thinks back of past Christmas concerts that programmed Handel's Messiah, Britten's A Ceremony Of Carols, Poulenc's Gloria or excerpts from Bach, Berlioz or Vaughan Williams, this concert was unusually light. Even three movements from Tchaikovsky's ballet Nutcracker, including the Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy, did little to expel that notion.

All that mattered was people enjoying themselves, with communal singing of Franz Gruber's Silent Night and closing with Lowell Mason's Joy To The World, the favourite carol wrongly attributed to Handel. As the audience merrily strolled out of the hall, only one nagging thought remained: where were the balloons?      

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