Monday, 1 January 2018

ON THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS / The Philharmonic Winds / Review

The Philharmonic Winds
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (29 December 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 January 2018

Christmas has come and gone but its spirit lingered on in this feel good concert by The Philharmonic Winds. Conducted by Leonard Tan and hosted by William Ledbetter, five golden rings were introduced to the audience in the form of a guest conductor, three soloists and a children's choir.

The concert opened with Frank Ticheli's Nitro, a short but energetic scherzo which pulsated with a mercurial beat and radiated Stravinskyan brilliance. There were those rapidly evolving elements of minimalism and tricky cross rhythms, but the orchestra handled its demands with confidence and discipline. The baton was then handed to Ignatius Wang (below) who led in Percy Grainger's Children's MarchOver The Hills And Far Away”, a catchy tune which built to a terrific climax before winding down.

Three of Singapore's top young wind talents came under the spotlight, beginning with saxophonist Samuel Phua in Ralph Hermann's Tosca Fantasy which recycles popular arias from Puccini's opera. Playing alto sax, his smooth and creamy tone relived tenor and soprano moments in soaring melodies like Recondita armonia, Vissi d'arte and E lucevan le stelle.

Euphonium soloist Kang Chun Meng, who appeared in this year's President's Young Performers Concert with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, also exuded an operatic flair in Eduardo Boccalari's Sounds of the Riviera. A richer and more burnished sound would be hard to find as he ambled from Italianate warmth to Hispanic fire in this dance-like showpiece.

Receiving the loudest cheers was clarinettist Ralph Emmanuel Lim who was in his element for Artie Shaw's Clarinet Concerto, a big-band era classic rife with jazzy riffs and flourishes. His seemingly effortless show continued into Malcolm Arnold's Pre-Goodman Rag as an outrageously hip encore. Like him, both Phua and Kang also had encores which they nailed with fearless aplomb.

The longest work was Howard Blake's enchanting music for the 1982 BBC animated television classic The Snowman, directed by Dianne Jackson. The wind arrangement by Phillip Littlemore accompanied the 26-minute-long movie that was screened in its entirety. The touching story is about a little boy who builds a snowman who comes to life at night, befriends and takes him on a magical winter flight to meet Father Christmas.

How the orchestra adapted so well to the movie's swiftly changing scenes and Ledbetter's lively narration was a credit to both the players and conductor Tan's abilities. Stealing the show was the 60-strong children's choir from Zhangde Primary School, which sang the hit song Walking In The Air with wide-eyed innocence and charm. There was a bittersweet end and anyone with dry eyes could be accused of having a heart of ice.

Three encores certainly pepped up the mood. The choir beautifully reprised Walking In The Air before Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride (conducted by Wang) and a sax arrangement of Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You heralded the obligatory avalanche of balloons. 

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