Monday, 29 January 2018


Victoria Concert Hall
Thursday (25 January 2018)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 January 2018 with the title "See how the violin conducted".

Singapore's premier chamber ensemble, re:Sound, has been regularly working with the land's top soloists and leaders through its past two seasons. Violinist Kam Ning and pianist Melvyn Tan have featured centrestage in past concerts, and its latest gig saw a guest appearance by young award-winning violinist Ike See (locals know him as See Ian Ike), now member of the august Australian Chamber Orchestra.

The concert's first half featured only strings, opening with the stirring strains of Grieg's Holberg Suite. This perennial favourite took on a silver sheen in the driving velocity of its Prelude, with a full and rich sonority coming through with great immediacy.

Modelled on baroque dances, much care was taken to shape each of its five movements, such that   they sounded greater than the sum of parts. In the stately Air, cellos sang mellifluously over a rocking accompaniment while the final Rigaudon bristled with invigorating energy.  

See turned soloist for Prokofiev's Five Melodies Op.35b, originally conceived for wordless soprano voice, in a subtle yet effective arrangement by American violinist-conductor Joseph Swensen. See's violin was well-supported by the ensemble, musing in bittersweet contemplations while soaring above the throng in heady climaxes. This was not a showy suite, but one illuminated by a genuine and heartfelt musicianship.

It would not do for the first half to end quietly. Thus Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances fulfilled the role of crowd-pleaser, with See leading the crew in a rowdy romp like a gypsy band high on spirits, the imbibable kind, of course.   

Modern performances of Mozart's Symphony No.41 in C major (K.551), known as the “Jupiter”, are traditionally led by a conductor from the podium. See did what 18th century musicians did in their time by leading the orchestra from his violin. Trading baton for bow, he was an animated presence who moved, swayed, waved and rocked with each phrase and measure.

The results were little short of spectacular. Even the opening bars of the 1st movement were “in your face”, unafraid of asserting itself and qualified by vigorous thumps from Michael Tan's timpani. This was not a performance that allowed for coasting through, as every musical response and counter-response had something important and vital to say.

After an almost exhausting opening movement, the ensuing slow 2nd movement was to be no traditional Romanze either. Although sharply-placed accents piqued the ears, there was grace all around, living up to the genteel spirit of the Rococo. The 3rd movement's Minuet and Trio traipsed lightly and buoyantly, distinguished by very fine woodwind playing.

The tour de force of contrapuntal writing that was the finale had the feel of a glorious homecoming.  Tricky fugal writing was surmounted with not just finely-honed facility, but with the pride of ownership. Tautly held together from start to end, this was a performance of Mozart's final symphony that one longed for here and hitherto thought unattainable. That is until now.       

Photographs by the kind courtesy of re:Sound.

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