Wednesday, 20 July 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, July 2016)

Ding Yi Music Company / Tay Teow Kiat
Long Yin / ****1/2

Ding Yi Music Company is Singapore's most active professional Chinese chamber ensemble, and its concert programming over the years has been both eclectic and innovative, as its latest album testifies. In a way, the course of contemporary Chinese instrumental music has been redefined by the encompassing of Nanyang music, which includes indigenous idioms of Southeast Asian music and its composers. Two excellent examples receive world premiere recordings here.

Bho Shambo is a dance of the Hindu god Shiva, and in Phang Kok Jun's arrangement, flautists Ghanavenothan Rethnam (bansuri) and Tan Qing Lun (dizi) share the honours in a headily rhythmic work that includes chanting in Tamil. A similar tandem operates in Phang's own Storytellers On Ann Siang Road where Chin Yen Choong and Lim Kwuan Boon's erhus act out a duet-cum-duet between Chinese and Malay itinerant storytellers of old.

The balance of the disc are five Chinese works by Liu Chang, Chow Jun Yi, Joshua Chan, Cao Wen Gong  and Wang Jian Min. Conducted by its founder, Cultural Medallion recipient Tay Teow Kiat, the playing is both refined and virtuosic, and more importantly passionately charged as only young professional musicians know how. 

SIBELIUS & GLAZUNOV Violin Concertos
Philharmonia Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy (Conductor)
Deutsche Grammophon 481 215 7 / ****1/2

In 2010, the 16-year-old Korean American violinist Esther Yoo was awarded First Prize at the 10th Sibelius International Violin Competition, the youngest-ever to be bestowed that accolade. Her debut recording of violin concertos by the Finn Jean Sibelius and Russian Alexander Glazunov commemorates the 150th anniversary of both composers' births in 1865. Despite her youth, the technical and interpretive demands of both concertos hold no terrors for Yoo.

She brings out a warm and gorgeous tone for the lyrical Glazunov concerto, only letting rip in its festive end. For the more austere and glacial disposition of the Sibelius concerto, she offers more grit and sinew to the proceedings, holding little back in the so-called “Polonaise for polar bears” of a finale. 

The fillers are pretty enough: Sibelius' youthful Suite For Violin And Strings and Glazunov's Grand Adagio from his ballet Raymonda. The support she gets from veteran conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy and from the London-based Philharmonia Orchestra is excellent, in what can be said to be a dream debut.   

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