Saturday, 14 January 2017

THE TROUT / NAFA Music Faculty / Review

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Music Faculty
Lee Foundation Theatre
Thursday (12 January 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 14 January 2017 with the title "Chamber music with lots of heart".

Chamber music is the most pleasurable activity for musicians and listeners alike. Originating from works written for royal court musicians, this later evolved into hausmusik (house music), played by members of 19th century middle-class households for their own entertainment. A collegial spirit exists in chamber music performance, hopefully allied by excellent techniques and refined tastes.

There were strong doses of all that in this concert featuring faculty of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Music Department. It opened with 20th century Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski's Trio D'Anches for woodwinds, written during the dark years of the Second World War. Far from being a sombre work, oboist Joost Flach, clarinettist Tang Xiao Ping and bassoonist Aw Yong Tian gave a lively and ebullient reading.

There were dissonances aplenty, and a spicy brand of humour ran through its ten minutes. The fast outer movements were tautly delivered with pin-point cues and accents, contrasted with a slow and doleful central movement, housing a canon where the oboe carried its tune. A dance-like finale with a witty end completed a fine reading.

Further contrasts came in the four-movement Horn Trio by Johannes Brahms, a well-known but not often performed work here. Its paucity is due to a lack of willing French horn players and a strenuously acrobatic piano part. Thankfully hornist Marc-Antoine Robillard was a total natural. Shaping the instrument's singing lines and possessing accurate intonation are often taken for granted.

Pianist Nicholas Ong's role was jumping through musical hoops, especially in the fast 2nd and 4th movements, accomplished with no little confidence. Violinist Foo Say Ming completed the threesome, which galloped through the “hunting-call” finale with a fearless panache. Anything slower would have been lead-footed, so their natural impulses were to go for broke. This was very well received by a noisy audience which had far too many fidgety children for its own good.

Too many children behaving poorly and treating
Lee Foundation Theatre like their private playground.
Their parents should be sent for re-education.
Photo taken during the intermission.

Foo was joined in the second half by violist Janice Tsai, cellist Lin Juan, bassist Wang Xu and pianist Lena Ching for Franz Schubert's popular Piano Quintet in A major, nicknamed the Trout Quintet. The performance was by no means note-perfect, but it possessed that pre-requisite of chamber music: lots of heart.

A smart and brisk pace rightly dictated the 1st movement, helmed by Ching's incisive playing that was anything but mechanical. There were lots of moments to heave a breath and savour the scents, and Ching was always alert to her partner's notes and nuances. The alternating fast and slow movements were contrasted to good effect; the 2nd movement's congenial indolence found a foil in the punchy rhythms of the 3rd and 5th movements.

The work's heart was the 4th movement, based on Schubert's lied Die Forelle (The Trout, hence the concert's title), which unfolded beautifully with each variation. Here the heart throbbed, and the warmth of camaraderie filled the hall with a glowing presence. That was, simply, the true essence of chamber music.   

No comments: