The Chamber Players
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Sunday (28 February 2016)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 March 2016 with the title "Joyous music showed off camaraderie".
The Chamber Players has been in existence since the early 1980s, which makes it an ensemble almost as old as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Besides providing working adults and non-career musicians chances to perform at a high level alongside professionals, it also fills in gaping lacunae in listening repertoire for the concert-goer.
After all, how often does one get to hear concerto grossi by Pietro Locatelli or Arcangelo Corelli? This concert of concertos traced the early development of the concerto form and the rise of leaders and soloists among musicians. The ensemble for a concerto grosso already makes a differentiation between soloists in the concertino group and the general ripieno group.
In Locatelli's Concerto Grosso (Op.1 No.9), one could discern violinists Lee Shi Mei and Una Lauw having parts of their own separate from their string colleagues, even as the ensemble gelled together as one whole. Alternating slow and fast movements provided contrasts in this cheerful music which not so much taxed the players but spurred them on.
For Corelli's Concerto Grosso (Op.6 No.1), the concertino group of Lee, Lauw and cellist Wendy Stimpson became better defined in their roles. The general ensemble took their cues from Lee, who acted like a concertmaster of sorts. Three of the movements opened with slow introductions and that was where the rough patches laid. When it came to faster music, the pulse became easier to follow and the playing tidied itself accordingly.
After the intermission, violinist Lee and violist Jonathan Lee took centrestage as outright soloists in Mozart's popular Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major (K.364), a curious hybrid between symphony and concerto. The opening tutti was energetically driven, with both Lees playing in unison with the strings before branching into their own demanding solos.
Their chemistry was a joy to behold, blending together as one with razor-sharp synchrony and spot-on intonation. The violist was the more physically expressive of the two, with animated bodily movements and all-eyes on the violinist who was a steadfast anchor throughout. In her free moments, Shi Mei also took to conduct the ensemble with her bow.
Two oboes and two French horns were scored for added textural colour. While the former were chaste and restrained, the latter came across as a touch exuberant, clearly enjoying their moments in the fray. Nevertheless, a fine balance was achieved between strings and winds allowing for the soloists to shine.
The Andante slow movement yielded the achingly beautiful lines while the Presto finale had its share of harried and hashed spots. However it was a common passion that propelled the joyous music to its ecstatic close, and that camaraderie – the sine qua non of good chamber music-making itself - was clearly palpable.