Monday, 7 May 2018


Victoria Concert Hall
Friday (4 May 2018)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 7 May 2018 with the title "Enlightening performance led by director's clear vision".

Singapore's premier professional chamber ensemble, re:Sound, continues to grow from strength to strength. One of its secrets is to work with a different leader/director every concert, and the results are fresh and different each time. Its latest guest director was the Ukrainian-British violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk, well-known for his work with renowned period instrument ensembles like the Academy of Ancient Music, New London Consort and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Enlighten the audience he did in a programme of mostly 18th century music, familiar and obscure. How often has one heard a Handel concerto grosso here in a live performance? Exactly. In Handel's G major Concerto Grosso (Op.6 No.1), he led the 13-member string group from his violin, and the sound was sleek and transparent through its five short movements.

Although the players do not perform on antique instruments, it was the approach by Beznosiuk which relived the spirit of the baroque. Vibrato was minimised, textures were light, but not light-weight and tempos lively, rather than merely fast. That each movement swung like a dance was the intention, and the overall results were impressive.

Also rarely heard was Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante in B flat major, a curious hybrid between symphony and concerto that was once a popular compositional form. Even more curious was the combination of solo instruments employed, including violin (Beznosiuk), cello (Robert Choi), oboe (Tay Kai Tze) and bassoon (Zhang Jin Min).

The 1st movement's martial air was provided by the orchestra's two trumpets, two French horns and timpani, but the quartet of soloists held its own with delightful interplay and a showy cadenza. The slow movement opened with violin and bassoon in conversation, a testament to Haydn's ingenuity and the finale's humour bubbled over. There was a passage where solo cello echoed the solo violin, as if saying “whatever you can do, I can do just as well”. 

The concert's second half was dedicated to Beethoven's Second Symphony in D major of 1802, an early work with the German beginning to overflex his creative muscles. Now seated, Beznosiuk still towered over his charges with his clearly defined directions dominating the performance. The opening notes were emphatic, and the slow introduction deliberately building into something special.

When the Allegro finally came, it was with a joyous surge of energy. Here was the true meaning of brio, a vitality that is natural and never forced. By contrast, the slow movement was graceful, chirping woodwinds singing over elegant svelte strings. The ensuing Scherzo hinted at a joke, but with Beethoven this meant providing surprises for the listener, such as catchy three-note phrases and springing unexpected changes in rhythm and dynamics.

Similarly, the finale was delivered with ebullience, with more humour shining through. The encore gave a clue to Beethoven's inspiration, the animated Minuet movement from Haydn's last symphony (No.104, also in D major). Can one hope for more of the same from Beznosiuk's next re:Sound concert?     

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