Tuesday, 12 April 2016

RACHMANINOFF'S SECOND CONCERTO / The Young Musicians' Foundation Orchestra / Review

The Young Musicians' 
Foundation Orchestra
School of the Arts Concert Hall
Sunday (10 April 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 12 April 2016 with the title "Promising public debut by young orchestra".

It is always exciting to greet the appearance of yet another new orchestra in Singapore, a city-state already filled with young orchestras. The Young Musicians' Foundation Orchestra (TYMFO) was founded by Darrell Ang several years ago, but this evening marked its first public concert under the leadership of present Music Director Alvin Seville Arumugam. 

Regular concert-goers might recognise several familiar faces in Concertmaster Lim Shue Churn on violin, viola principal Siew Yi Li and cello principal Lin Juan, all of whom are experienced hands. Their mentorship of the young musicians was to provide the much-needed stability for the demanding enterprise of performing a live concert.

The programme opened with Morning Mood from Grieg's Peer Gynt. This was a very clean and fresly minted reading, evocative of the Sahara Desert at dawn (rather than the cliched vision of Norwegian fjords) lit up by confident showings from flautists Rachel Ho and Shaun Leoi. The tonal colour brought out by the orchestra was also close to perfection in this short curtain-raiser.

The less said about the titular Second Piano Concerto by Rachmaninoff, the better. The soloist was Charles Cousins, a mature amateur with far more enthusiasm than experience. A highly uneven performance with some sublime spots marred by many mistakes, lapses and an outright collapse (necessitating an emergency page-turner, not for the first time at this venue) showed that public performances of Rachmaninoff concertos should be best left for professional concert pianists. 

There was nothing amateurish about the performance of Beethoven's Symphony No.5 in C minor that took place after the intermission. In reality, it was a very good one, in terms of overall ensemble, projection and the realisation of that most Beethovenian of commands – con brio. The familiar 4-note opening motif was launched with precision and verve, and the first movement brimmed with a palpable vitality that was hard to resist.

As if to prove that was no fluke, the opening of the slow movement with violas and cellos was beautifully sung, almost weightless in its delivery. The Andante thus unfolded with grace and purpose, rising to a ecstatic climax. If there were any quibbles, the tricky changing metre of the 3rd movement gave the ensemble a few problems, the sort which could be ironed out with time and experience.

Leaving best for last, the Finale blazed with an incandescence of white heat that was totally memorable. Conductor Arumugam's secure and steady beat which kept the ensemble focussed at such high speeds seemed almost implausible. The trombones, first heard in this symphony, were excellent, blasting off with great aplomb. Always in pitch, they never came close to hogging the show.

Although urgent in feel, this did not feel like a hard-driven performance. That is the rare skill of a good conductor, one always sensitive to the music and ensemble, but directing with a single-minded vision according to an innate sense of aesthetics. This life-affirming outing bodes well for a young orchestra with very much to offer.  

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