Monday, 19 September 2016

MOZART & MAHLER / Yong Siew Toh Conservatory / Review

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Saturday (17 September 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 19 September 2016 with the title "Angelic outing from virtuosos". 

There was another evening of chamber music at the Conservatory, but it was more of a local variety. The Conservatory's faculty comprises real virtuosos in their own right, and it was a pleasure to hear them perform in Mozart's Quintet in E flat major (K.452) for piano and winds.

The Conservatory's emerald green Bösendorfer grand piano was wheeled out. Pianist Bernard Lanskey (Conservatory Director) towered over the keyboard with his back against the audience and four wind players faced him. This unusual placement worked well because the sound was homogeneous, with the mellow-sounding piano not over-powering the others. 

The winds' opening chord set the tone, and the piano's crisply articulated introduction soon got the opening movement underway. Interplay between guest clarinettist Dimitri Ashkenazy and faculty members Rachel Walker (oboe), Zhang Jin Min (bassoon) and Han Chang Chou (French horn) was excellent, especially in the serenade-like Larghetto slow movement when each took turns in juicy solos to luxuriate.

The finale with its chirpy theme was another delight, as the sheer clarity of each part shone through. Tempos were kept brisk and perky, adding to the movement's rustic and bucolic quality as it danced its way to a cheerful close.

Here was an august collection of highly-skilled soloists, and the same should be said of the young players from the Conservatory Chamber Ensemble who performed in German conductor Klaus Simon's arrangement of Mahler's Fourth Symphony. The shortest and most lightly scored of the Austrian composer's ten symphonies was further reduced to one instrument per part, which made for some interestingly transparent sounds.

Just as unusual was the scoring for piano (played by Foo Yi Xuan), accordion (Syafiqah 'Adha Sallehin) and harp (Charmaine Teo) which helmed much of the accompaniment. Conductor Chan Tze Law, arguably Singapore's most important Mahler conductor, kept a tight rein on the proceedings and the end result was never hectic or hurried.

Once one got used to the Viennese palm court band sound, Mahler's music pretty much spoke for itself. The sleigh-ride jingles of the opening movement rang out purposefully, and it was soon apparent that every player was on the top of his or her game despite their highly-exposed parts.

Special mention goes to first violinist Liu Minglun who adroitly alternated between two violins in the scherzo-like 2nd movement. One violin was tuned to a higher pitch to produce a sinister and discomfiting effect depicting “Death playing the fiddle”. The spectre of mortality loomed high in this ironic movement, but was laid low for the lovely slow 3rd movement which breathed a leisurely and rarefied air.

This paved the entrance of German soprano Felicitas Fuchs, garbed in an emerald green  gown, to sing the verses of Das Himmlischer Leben (The Heavenly Life). This was a child's vision of celestial delights, and even if she did not try too hard to sound childlike, the sheer beauty of her voice backed by musicians in their angelic best was otherworldly bliss.   

No comments: