Thursday, 12 April 2018

PRELUDE TO THE AFTERNOON OF A FAUN, STRAUSS' DON JUAN AND ALBERT'S TCHAIKOVSKY / Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra / Review



PRELUDE TO THE 
AFTERNOON OF THE FAUN,
STRAUSS' DON JUAN & 
ALBERT'S TCHAIKOVSKY
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Tuesday (10 April 2018)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 12 April 2018 with the title "Pianist Albert Tiu steals the show". 

The Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra's final concert of the academic year resembled a graduation prom. Most of the lady players wore colourful evening gowns, adding a dose of glamour to a programme filled with glitzy orchestral showpieces. These are works which professional musicians are expected to play in orchestras, and the young players did a fine job under the helm of French guest conductor Olivier Ochanine.


Bravura was first order of the day in Richard Strauss' tone poem Don Juan. Needing little or no time to warm up, the orchestra immediately launched itself into its passionate pages. The romantic sweep and swashbuckling impressed, which was made even more special by the solo playing. The plaintive oboe in the work's dreamiest episodes was excellent, matched by solo clarinet in repartee, and the famous passage for French horns was truly a moment to wait for and savour. There were heroes and heroines aplenty.


The orchestra's versatility showed when it switched gears for Debussy's Prelude To The Afternoon Of The Faun with its languid and haunting opening. Long sinuous lines on solo flute set the mood where the ear entered a realm of sensuousness. The sensitive and evocative playing was accompanied by projected visuals created by media students Mervin Wong and Emilia Teo.


Great music and spirited playing do not need added visual dimensions, and the moving pictures of dispersing smoke, seeping water and close-up shots of plants and flowers were merely innocuous appendages. Other than an unintentionally comical cartoon of a faun, this seemed like an experiment in synaesthesia, an affliction where sounds induce coloured visual hallucinations. 


The longest work of the evening was Tchaikovsky's rarely performed Second Piano Concerto in G major, with Albert Tiu as soloist. Trailing in popularity to its predecessor by a long distance, it is also ungratefully taxing for the pianist.

Tiu however mastered its crunching chords, stampeding octaves, and tricky fingering with fearless aplomb, even if occasional over-enthusiastic orchestral playing masked some passages. More importantly, the ballet-like quality of the music shone through, culminating in a long and treacherously rhythmic piano cadenza which did little to faze Tiu.


The slow movement, played in its original unedited version, was a essentially a mini-concerto for piano trio. Concertmaster Askar Salimdjanov and principal cellist Jamshid Saydikarimov, both from Uzbekistan, conducted an exquisite pas de deux in an extended introduction before being sidelined by the piano in the concerto's finest melody. Resolution invariably occurs with Tchaikovsky, and a loving menage a trois with all soloists ensued. 



The infectious gaiety of the rollicking finale brought the loudest cheers and two encores. Still with Tchaikovsky, Tiu emoted with Mikhail Pletnev's transcription of the Andante from Sleeping Beauty, followed by his own arrangement of a fugal tango by Astor Piazzolla for the marvellously balanced threesome. The house simply rocked. 

  

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