Monday, 28 May 2018

A TALE OF TWO CITIES / By Candlelight Series / Review

Roberto Alvarez (Flute) with
Kseniia Vokhmianina (Piano) 
& Katryna Tan (Harp)
Living Room @ The Arts House
Friday (25 May 2018)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 28 May 2018 with the title "A musical tale of two countries".

Despite its catchy Dickensian title, this concert, part of The Arts House's By Candlelight chamber music series, was more a “tale of two countries”, namely Singapore and Spain. Commemorating 50 years of diplomatic relations between the nations, the music of three Singaporean composers and five Spanish composers were celebrated by three musicians who could justly be described as our brightest foreign talents.

The first half featured works for flute and piano, opening with Low Shao Suan's By the Fireplace (left). A warm glow emanated from Spanish flautist Alvarez's instrument in this totally melodious work which included such influences as Debussy and the Disney musical Beauty and the Beast. Her twin sister Shao Ying's Dance of Spring (right) was a jolly and easy-going waltz with a Parisian air about it. Both would pass as classy mood music for a romantic movie.

These served as bookends for two Spanish works. Federico Moreno Torroba is better known for his guitar works, and his Dedicatoria similarly inhabited the world of dance and song, alternating between rhythmic and lyrical before closing with a brilliant flourish.

The big work was Salvador Brotons' Flute Sonata (1979) in two continuous movements where the use of tone rows and dissonance, de rigeuer in atonal music, was merely a means to an end. These devices and a phenomenal flute technique contrived to make this a demanding but most attractive work. It began quietly, and following a virtuosic cadenza, blazed into a mercurial and playful finale that had both Alvarez and Ukrainian pianist Kseniia Vokhmianina stretched to their limits.

Malaysia-born harpist Katryna Tan joined Alvarez for the second half, which saw Chen Zhangyi's aurally luscious Five Constellations (left) as the first piece. More astrologically than astronomically inclined, these were short fantasies which conjure phantasmagorical imagery through a skilful play of colour and timbre. Premiered and recorded on compact disc by the duo in 2011, they practically own the work. 
Jesus Guridi's Tirana was dance-inspired and a homage to the Spanish violin virtuoso Pablo Sarasate, hence its elegant and yet showy turns balanced by a graceful lilt. There was one further Singaporean connection, specifically in Fernando Agüeria's Moonlight, which attempted to depict our tropical night scene, buzzing frenetically with activity and an underlying unease.

The 90-minute concert closed with two varied but familiar Spanish works from Isaac Albeniz's Suite Española. Granada was gentle and melancholic, while Asturias was busy and vigorous, pulsing with an energised flamenco beat.

A Spanish encore united all the three performers. According to Alvarez, Suspiros de Espana (Sighs of Spain) by Antonio Alvarez Alonso (no relation) is a pasodoble or bull-fighting dance beloved of all Spaniards. His cheerful and upbeat arrangement for flute, harp and piano ensured that it was also enjoyed by Singaporeans as well.

Composers and performers (L to R):
Low Shao Suan, Low Shao Ying, Chen Zhangyi,
Roberto Alvarez, Katryna Tan
& Kseniia Vokhmianina.

No comments: