Saturday, 30 April 2016

AN ENCHANTED EVENING WITH ALEXANDER AND MASAKO / Alexander Souptel & Masako Suzuki / Review

Alexander Souptel & 
Masako Suzuki White, Violins
Victoria Concert Hall
Thursday (28 April 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 April 201 with the title "Partying with Sasha and lollipops".

If a history were written about classical music in Singapore, the name of Alexander Souptel would surely appear alongside the likes of Feri Krempl, Goh Soon Tioe and Lee Pan Hon. Souptel, or Sasha as he is known affectionately, was Concertmaster of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra from 1993 to 2012.

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian native emigrated to Singapore where he became a naturalised citizen. Now playing in the rank and file of first violins and coaching conservatory students, he still cuts a commanding stage figure.

His is not one of stern authority but an avuncular, almost carefree charm, blest with the hallmarks of a born entertainer. His often outlandish demeanour was on full show in this concert of lollipops, in tandem with his inseparable companion Masako Suzuki White, herself a fiddler of considerable prowess.

Nobody quite wields the bow like Souptel, circumscribing wide arcs like a light sabre, accompanied by cheeky grins and knowing eyes. The “serious” work on show was Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, and even that had no pretensions to authenticity. With Jonathan Shin on piano and Guennadi Mouzyka's double bass, the baroque work swung like jazz, not least in the 1st movement's fugato section.

In Massenet's cloying Meditation from Thaïs, the two violins came across as overcooked with schmaltzy sentimentality. Similarly, the gently gliding of Saint-Saëns' The Swan was supplanted by four young ballerinas from Cheng Ballet Academy who were very cute if not self-conscious.

For Brahms' Hungarian Dance No.2, the irrepressible Magyar spirit took over, with frayed bowstrings the inevitable result. More high jinks erupted in Bang Wen Fu's spiced-up version of Paganini's Caprice No.24, alternating between straight variations played unaccompanied and jazz-club raves with Mark de Souza's drum-set providing the heady beat.

The second half was no less fun, with the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria and Kreisler's Miniature Viennese March and Liebesfreud providing a generous flow of joie de vivre. Virtuoso fireworks were not spared for Sarasate's Navarra, where fearsome passages for triplets on both violins were tossed off with nonchalance, followed by the duel of Piazzolla's aptly titled Violentango

Swaying LED lights of audience handphones spontaneously lit up Leigh Harline's When You Wish Upon A Star from the Disney animated classic Pinocchio, which the usually overzealous ushers ignored as a legit part of the act. For Jacob Gade's Tango Jalousie, Souptel had a rose clenched between his lips before presenting it upon bended knee to a surprised Masako. Their patented party piece, Khachaturian's Sabre Dance, slashed its way to the programme's official close.

There were five encores, including Chinese lollipops The Moon Represents My Heart and Horse-Racing, and the titular Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific. The final encore began with the opening solo from Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto before segueing into the Russian song Dark Eyes (Ochi Chornye). By this time, the audience was clapping along with the foot-stamping music, tossing roses on stage, and according a deserved standing ovation. 

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