Monday, 16 May 2016

CHAMBER CONCERT / Suntory Hall Chamber Music Academy & Yong Siew Toh Conservatory / Review

Suntory Hall Chamber Music Academy
& Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music
Conservatory Concert Hall
Friday (13 May 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 May 2016 with the title "Japan-Singapore tie-up".  

In conjunction with celebrating 50 years of diplomatic ties between Japan and Singapore, a host of concerts this week has been curated under the banner of “Super Japan”. This chamber concert featured a collaboration between the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory and Tokyo's prestigious Suntory Hall Chamber Music Academy, which provides young professional musicians opportunities to work with established artists.

Eleven Japanese musicians performed with seven Conservatory students in a programme of movements from works to be showcased in their entirety at the National Gallery on the following day. The evening opened with the 1st movement of Beethoven's Gassenhauer Trio (Op.11), which had Miao Kaiwen's clarinet blending resonantly with cellist Airi Niwa and pianist Asaki Ino. The balance was excellent, with crisply delivered phrasing allied by wholeness of tone.

Joined by violinist Oleksandr Korniev, the foursome floated dreamily through the ethereal sound world of Toru Takemitsu's Quatrain II. This is the same combination of instruments to be found in Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, with the clarinet providing the main thematic interest, complemented by lush harmonies on piano and string dissonances. This slow music of perpetual stasis left a deep impression, with its pauses, silences and echoes playing a major part in the discourse.   

The diametric opposite of Zen was Ernest Chausson's Concert, unusually scored for piano and violin, and string quartet. Given its demanding parts and ambitious symphonic pretentions, the six players could be excused for not totally gelling in its monumental opening movement.

Korniev's violin solo sounded more attuned to the string quartet (violinists Orest Smovzh and Martin Peh, violist Ho Qian Hui and cellist Christopher Mui), while leaving Kosuke Akimoto's florid piano almost a peripheral figure. With more rehearsal time in their hands, their close to flawless techniques will surely be matched by that more elusive quality called chemistry.

Takemitsu's Le Son Calligraphie for eight string players opened the second half. Seated in a semi-circle, each player in the conservatory's quartet was placed opposite a corresponding member of the L'espase String Quartet (violinists Gentaro Kagitomi and Kyo Ogata, violist Moe Fukui and cellist Takuya Yuhara) from Japan. This suggested a duel of sorts, but the musicians dovetailed seamlessly in its three short terse movements. While the major solos went to the Japanese players, they were well supported by the locals.

The final selections were two movements from Antonin Dvorak's String Quintet No.2 (Op.77), with Japan's Arpa Quartet (violinists Nao Tohara and Kyoko Ogawa, violist Ayane Koga and cellist Yu Ito) joined by the conservatory's Zhang Jianzhe on double-bass. By far the least forbidding music of the evening, the slow 3rd movement radiated warmth in its stillness, almost approximating the spirituality to be found in Schubert's great String Quintet. The ebullience and cheer of its folk music-inspired finale closed the concert on an ecstatic high.

By the time these 18 players parade their wares in Suntory Hall on 10 June, a close to finished product beckons.         

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