Tuesday, 18 April 2017


KEVIN LOH, Guitar et al
Esplanade Recital Studio
Sunday (16 April 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 April 2017 with the title "Inspirational folk music". 

Spanish flautist Roberto Alvarez has introduced more new music to audiences than anyone else, including world and local premieres of works by Spanish, Singaporean and New Zealand composers. His latest concert, a collaboration with HSBC Youth Excellence Award recipient guitarist Kevin Loh, however shied away from the avant-garde.

All the works had inspirations from folk music and the past, beginning with Maximo Diego Pujol's Suite Buenos Aires with four movements reflecting colours and flavours of different districts in the Argentine capital. Similarities with Piazzolla's Portenos (Seasons) exist, but these were not tangos. Palermo exuded melancholy and nostalgia, while scherzo-like San Telmo had vigourous rhythms tapped out by Alvarez's feet and Loh's hands.

If one thought Alvarez had all the melodies, Loh showed that his nifty guitar provided more than merely accompaniment. With a good share of lyricism and virtuosic flourishes, he closely tracked the flute in the finale Microcentro, a perpetual motion with spiky dissonances for good effect.

Moving northwards, Celso Machado's Musiques Populaires Bresiliennes exhibited a more gentle side, with less angular and jolting rhythms but no less spirit. Three movements included the title Choros (songs of street musicians), a form also employed by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. With hardly a line separating folk music from concert music, only a pedant could resist the allure of Sambossa, a bossa nova number lightly spiced with some harmonic ambiguity, leading to Pe De Moleque, which was a fast and lively samba.

The most traditional work was Hungarian Bela Bartok's Six Romanian Dances, a popular study of ethnomusicology. Better known in its version for violin and piano, the flute and guitar guise was no less piquant, but should the audience have applauded after each minute-long dance?

The duo was joined by pianist Kseniia Vokhmianina, double-bassist Tony Makarome and drummer Ramu Thiruyanam in French jazz pianist-composer Claude Bolling's Picnic Suite, receiving its Singapore premiere. Cast in seven movements, it is a tribute to the baroque suite of disparate dances.

Note the picnic basket on the right.

The 1st movement Rococo opened with a fugue. Guitar followed flute, and when the “orchestra” entered, it opened up a new world of sound – of syncopations, blues and collective letting down of hair. Every phrase had been notated on score, but the playing was so natural and convincing that it sounded fresh and improvised.

Gaylancholic was the title of the 3rd movement, swinging between the two groups, a friendly contest where formal lines alternated with the seemingly informal. “Gay” must be taken in the traditional sense of the word, which means happy. Alvarez turned to the alto flute for the lyrical Tendre, a beautiful interlude before the busy bantering of Badine, a reference to Bach's Badinerie from his Second Suite (which prominently features the flute).

There were two gratefully received encores, a dance by Pixinguinha and an Asturian lullaby sung to Alvarez by his mother. True to form, the latter was also a World Premiere.     

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