Saturday, 27 February 2016

THE MOZARTIAN EXPERIENCE / ADDO Chamber Orchestra / Review

ADDO Chamber Orchestra
Esplanade Recital Studio
Thursday (25 February 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 27 February 2016 with the title "A light-hearted homage to Mozart".

If one wondered why this concert was not titled The Mozart Experience, that was because it included music that was known during Mozart's era rather than exclusively by the Austrian composer himself. It began with the Sinfonia to Italian Domenico Cimarosa's popular comic opera Il Matrimonio Secreto (The Secret Marriage).

The overture opened with a fanfare very similar to that in Mozart's The Magic Flute, and the busy string flourishes that follow took after the master's wit himself. Conductor Clarence Tan kept the  pacing water-tight, best exhibited by the strings and a pair of flutes. Even if some winds had wayward moments, the buffo aspects were never lost as the music raced to a breathless end.

Young Filipino soprano Angela Cortez then joined to sing Mozart's well-known motet Exsultate Jubilate, a virtuosic showpiece she did not seem totally comfortable with. She has a pleasing voice and good diction which worked well for the slower languorous bits, but had some difficulty with the runs. Nevertheless, she made a good impression of Handel's slow Lascia Chio Pianga from the opera Rinaldo that followed.

Would it be better for her to have started with the Handel aria, essentially a lament, before moving to the flashier Mozart? Chronologically it would have made more sense, and the fact that Handel's operatic music was well-known to Mozart and not the other way round. In both works, the orchestra displayed sensitivity with the most discreet of accompaniments.       

French horn soloist Alan Kartik Jairamin, from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, is one performer who has no confidence issues. He brought out a big, warm burnished tone in two Mozart horn concertos, shining brightest in the slow movement of the Second Concerto in E flat major (K.417). Its hunting horn Rondo finale was simply a joy, having to nimbly jump through a series of musical hoops.

The First Concerto in D major (K.412) brought out more of the same, except this work was in just two movements including another animated Rondo. This was followed by a show-and-tell session that truly engaged the audience. Kartik's humour in demonstrating playing notes on a natural horn (without valves) and a garden hose fitted with funnel and mouthpiece was greeted with much mirth and hilarity. His performance of the Rondo in D for hosepipe and orchestra is destined for YouTube notoriety.

The concert closed with Mozart's Symphony No.35 in D major, also known as the Haffner Symphony. The earlier discipline wielded by Tan's baton was immediately apparent in the vigorous opening, which was tautly knitted and driven with a firm rhythmic thrust. The slow movement weathered rough spots from the horns and was saved by the finesse of the string playing.

The Minuet exuded courtly grace, and one will note the subtle phrasing at the beginning of the finale, which opened quietly under the voice and then went for the jugular. The febrile feeling of storm and stress, expressive devices popularised during the classical age, was well brought out as the work closed on a head of steam. ADDO Chamber Orchestra's take on Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony on 5 May should be worth catching.

All photographs by courtesy of the ADDO Chamber Orchestra.

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