Monday, 10 May 2021

CANDLELIGHT CONCERTS: CHOPIN'S BEST WORKS / Li Churen, Piano / Review



CANDLELIGHT CONCERT:

CHOPIN’S BEST WORKS

Li Churen, Piano

Victoria Concert Hall

Friday (7 May 2021)

 

Whatever one might think of Fever’s Candlelight concerts, with its gimmicky placements of hundreds of smokeless electronic candles in concert venues, it has at least got the choice of performers right. The Vivaldi Four Seasons concerts engaged the more-than-acceptable Vocalise Quartet with a quite excellent Jocelyn Ng playing the violin solos. The bar was further raised with pianist Li Churen helming their Chopin recitals, unimaginatively called Chopin’s Best Works. Corny title aside, this Yong Siew Toh Conservatory alumnus with further degrees from Yale and Cambridge gave a best account possible for an hour of Chopin’s piano music.

 

Were these really Chopin’s best works? One might argue that moot point, but there was little denying the selections were fair representations of each genre of piano pieces which Chopin indulged in. There was one each of the nocturnes, waltzes, scherzos, impromptus, études, préludes and polonaises, but no mazurkas, ballades, rondos or sonata movements, but that is already a lot to pack in within 60 minutes.



    

To open with the Nocturne in E flat major (Op.9 No.2) was a no-brainer. Is there a more evocative work than this to convey the romance and mystique of night? Surrounded by candles, Li’s reading was one of tonal lustre and warmth, aided by judicious rubato and mastery of ornamentations. After a short address, the salon charms of Waltz in C sharp minor (Op.64 No.2, companion to the notorious “Minute” Waltz) was followed by a sequence in E major.  



Scherzo No.4 (Op.54) was an unexpected choice, the trickiest and most elusive of the four Scherzi, but Li nailed it with a combination of nimble fingers and mercurial wit. The popular “Tristesse” Étude in E major (Op.10 No.3) evinced tenderness before the little caprice of its central section gave way to a thunderous cascade in the thorniest and technically most difficult passage of all (completed avoided by the likes of Richard Clayderman). I am sorry even to bring up Clayderman, but Li totally showed that charlatan up, and everyone should know who is the real pianist.  


 

The next two works were enharmonically related: Fantasie-Impromptu in C sharp minor (Op.66) and Prélude in D flat major (Op.28 No.15). Digital brilliance alternating with pure lyricism reigned in the former while the latter reminded this listener less of falling raindrops but rather the gentle and constant flickering of candlelight. Little had I expected this outcome, but the visual element provided by the evening’s setting cannot be underestimated. The formal Chopin programme closed with Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise Brillante (Op.22), the longest work on show. The nocturne-like introduction was beautifully voiced, later giving way to the vigorous dance of Polish nobility, coruscating from start to finish.



 

It was a great way to end, and Churen’s encore, an original work called Llama’s Land – beginning with a gentle waltz but gradually building up into a lively fantasy – showed her to be an excellent composer as well. Some years ago, I referred to her in a review as the “epitome of poise and polish”. Now let me now add “passion” to that list of superlatives.



 

Li Churen will perform at the Singapore International Piano Festival on Friday 4 June at Victoria Concert Hall, playing the music of Schumann, Ravel, George Crumb and an original composition inspired by J.S.Bach. Be sure not to miss it.    

http://www.sso.org.sg/sipf 


The National Gallery (Old Supreme Court)
looks great by "candlelight" too.


Thursday, 6 May 2021

POLAND MAY 3RD CONSTITUTION DAY CONCERT / Review




POLAND MAY 3RD 

CONSTITUTION DAY CONCERT

Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre

Tuesday 4 May 2021

 

Imagine the feeling of surprise and pleasure to be invited by the Embassy of Poland in Singapore to attend an evening of Polish chamber music performed by Singaporean musicians. I had honestly never quite realised the close relationship between our city-state and the Eastern European powerhouse. For example, I did not know that Poland had donated ten thousand chicken eggs to the residents of Sembawang during last year’s Covid lockdown, nor was I aware of Singapore’s investments in the Baltic sea port of Gdansk. Thanks to HE Ambassador Magdalena Bogdziewicz and Alvin Tan, Singapore's minister-of-state for Culture, Youth, Information, Trade and Industry, in their respective speeches, I am that little bit wiser.       


 
Before the actual concert, Li Churen performed
on piano the national anthems of Singapore and Poland.

The concert was performed by a newly formed local trio of violinist Yang Shuxiang, cellist Leslie Tan and pianist Li Churen, all of whom have affiliation with the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. Yang and Li are fairly recent graduates while the veteran Tan, founding member of the T’ang Quartet, is part of the faculty. Despite their age gaps spanning almost three decades, the threesome displayed rather good chemistry together, but more later.



 

The evening began with Chopin’s solo music, with Li performing the Waltz in C sharp minor (Op.64 No.2), displaying insouciance and rubato to equal measure, before letting rip in the Fantaisie-Impromptu (Op.66), dizzying fingers alternating with pure poetry in its lyrical centre. The solo segment was completed with the Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise Brilliante (Op.22). The showstopper was given its due, with a nocturne-like introduction leading up to a fiery show of digital virtuosity. Churen has been engaged to perform in Fever’s Chopin By Candlelight recitals and this year’s Singapore International Piano Festival. The organisers really know their pianists.



 

Wieniawski’s Legende was given a passionate reading by violinist Yang and Li, opening with calm but smouldering disquiet before erupting into a full-throated rhapsody. Shuxiang is well-known for the wide breadth of his string tone, but his largesse did not come to fruition in the hall’s dryish and somewhat unflattering acoustics.



 

Leslie Tan’s instrument was cast in better light for two varied movements from Krzysztof Penderecki’s Suite for  Solo Cello. This is a largely tonal work, quite different from the recently departed composer’s  notorious Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, but still retaining a spiky dissonance and acerbic quality. The Aria was more of a lament while the Scherzo taxed his limits of agility to the full. It was not easy listening but rewarding nonetheless for the emotional depth on display.



 

All three performers were united for the early Piano Trio (Op.1) by Sir Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) in three short movements. This was a student work, dating from 1934, when his personal musical voice had not fully formed. Eminently tonal and late Romantic in idiom, the first movement were redolent of Debussy or Ravel but not so impressionist. There was melodic interest in the central movement, albeit all-too-brief before heralding lively finale’s ostinato beat. Elements of Polish folk music come into play, and one is reminded of Szymanowski’s compositions influenced by his sojourns in the Tatra Mountains. This must certainly be the Singapore premiere of this very engaging work, and the trio members worked well together to make it spark.



 

You can hear it again when the Yang-Tan-Li trio perform a similar programme at the Singapore International Festival of Arts on 22 May at The Arts House.                     

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

MAHLER 4 LIVE! / Orchestra of the Music Makers / Review



MAHLER 4 LIVE!

Orchestra of the Music Makers

Esplanade Concert Hall


An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 5 May 2021 with the title "A message of hope for an uncertain time".

 

It has been several years time since audiences in Singapore witnessed a performance of a Gustav Mahler symphony, the last being Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of the Second Symphony led by Shui Lan in January 2019. The Covid pandemic and circuit breaker has not helped, given the Austrian composer’s propensity for celestial lengths and large orchestras. But trust the Orchestra of Music Makers (OMM), Mahler specialist among local ensembles, to wangle three performances of his Fourth Symphony this weekend.

 

The Fourth is Mahler’s shortest and most lightly orchestrated symphony but does one really care? This is still Mahler, and any performance represented pandemic gold. And what about social distancing measures that limited groups to a maximum of 30 onstage performers? Not a problem, since German conductor Klaus Simon’s 2007 chamber arrangement of the symphony just required 23 players led by young  conductor Seow Yibin to accomplish.   

 

It was with these constraints that this mini-miracle transpired, much in the 1920s Viennese spirit of Arnold Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances, which undertook chamber readings of large orchestral works in intimate settings. Simon’s economical orchestration unusually included the accordion (played by Syafiqah ‘Adha Sallehin) and piano (Michael Huang) to support a small group of strings, winds (one person to a part) and two percussionists. Instead of being overawed, these forces worked like a charm.



 

Tinkling of sleigh bells opened the symphony with feathery lightness, and smooth strings later took over in establishing the first movement’s thematic and melodic interest. It was to conductor Seow’s credit that the pacing did not lag, and there were pivotal moments which piqued the ears, such as Miao Kaiwen’s clarinet solo which quoted the funereal trumpet call of Mahler’s next symphony, the tumultuous Fifth.

 

It was concertmaster Zhao Tian who starred in the second movement by alternating between two violins. One was tuned a tone higher to suggest “Death playing the fiddle”, thus provided an unnerving and somewhat macabre vibe to a seemingly innocuous Scherzo. The slow movement was the symphony’s heart, characterised by an ebb and flow of emotion that was truly moving. Again, it was the strings that did the heavy tugging.

 



The icing on the cake came when soprano Teng Xiang Ting, dressed in a blood red gown, emerged onstage to sing the finale’s strophic song Das Himmlischer Leben (The Heavenly Life). Its words, from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn) by Arnim and Brentano, paint a child’s innocent vision of paradise. Her German was idiomatic and the depth of feeling engendered real and unforced, providing a blissful close to the symphony’s mere 55 minutes.



    

There were two rather apt vocal encores, first the satirical and comedic song Lob Des Hohen Verstandes (Praise Of Lofty Intellect), another Mahler setting on Wunderhorn songs, also quoted in his Fifth Symphony. Next, Richard Strauss’ Morgen! (Tomorrow!), revealed pure beauty in both concertmaster Zhao’s solo violin introduction and Teng’s entreaties. Its words, “Tomorrow the sun will shine again... and the stillness of happiness will sink upon us,” provide comfort and hope for an uncertain future.  

 


Wednesday, 28 April 2021

CELEBRATING BEETHOVEN: THE CELLO SONATAS / Qin Li-Wei & Albert Tiu / Review


CELEBRATING BEETHOVEN:

THE CELLO SONATAS

QIN LI-WEI, Cello

ALBERT TIU, Piano

Esplanade Concert Hall

Saturday (24 April 2021)


This review was published by The Straits Times on 28 April 2021 with the title "Soulful, nuanced take on Beethoven sonatas". 

Last year marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of German composer Ludwig van Beethoven, but planned celebratory concerts in Singapore had to be cancelled or deferred because of the Covid pandemic. It is, however, never too late to indulge in his genius, as this sold-out concert of three sonatas for cello and piano performed by Qin Li-Wei and Albert Tiu amply demonstrated.

 

Beethoven was the creator of the cello sonata genre, his five sonatas spanning the three periods of his creative output. The duo chose to perform the last three sonatas, encompassing Beethoven’s “middle” and “late” periods. Sonata No.3 in A major (Op.69) is perhaps his best known and most performed, characterised by the wealth of typically memorable melodies.



 

It was Qin who opened unaccompanied, with a first bowed breath – wistful yet confident – that was to set the tone for the evening. Tiu came in at the sixth bar, and one immediately knew this was to be a partnership of firsts among equals. Their intuitive sense of give-and-take was apparent at the outset, becoming more acute in the Scherzo’s syncopated entries, where split-second timing and razor-sharp reflexes became even more critical.

 

Surging passion was key to the outer movements, with both musicians tapping into vast resources of technique and experience to deliver. Never content of merely vanquishing many notes, there were soul and nuance aplenty, and never a dull moment through the sonata’s half-hour duration. One looks way back to 1992 to remember a reading of similar breadth and authority, by the late great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich no less, with pianist Lambert Orkis at Victoria Concert Hall.



 

The pair of late sonatas, both shorter works, provided more contrasts and surprises. While Beethoven was a visionary who looked towards the future, there were also nods to past traditions. Sonata No.4 in C major (Op.102 No.1) revealed daring harmonies, trenchantly brought out, that sounded modern for 1815,  while Sonata No.5 in D major (Op.102 No.2) contained the only slow movement to be found in all five sonatas.

 

Time stood still for its longeurs, all of nine minutes marked Adagio con molto sentimento d’affetto (slowly with much feeling of affection), before closing with a hair-raisingly tricky fugal finale. By now, the duo had performed some 70 minutes without intermission, and seemed raring for more.      



 

Two delightfully lyrical encores were the result, first with the 18th Variation from Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody. A clever choice since its melody was an inversion of the opening theme from Beethoven’s final cello sonata, besides being played in the same key. Tom Poster’s expansive arrangement of Harold Arlen’s Over The Rainbow, popularised by Yo-Yo Ma in his latest album, brought on ever more cheers. 


Qin Li-Wei and Albert Tiu will perform this programme again at Esplanade Concert Hall on next Monday 3 May 2021. 




This concert was presented by Altenburg Arts.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

GOH SOON TIOE @ 110 / AWARD WINNERS IN CONCERT / Review


GOH SOON TIOE @ 110

AWARD WINNERS IN CONCERT

Esplanade Recital Studio

Sunday (18 April 2021)

 

Goh Soon Tioe is 110 years old this year! For those not old enough to remember the name, Goh Soon Tioe (1911-1982) was Singapore’s Western classical music pioneer, one who combined illustrious careers in violin performance, conducting, musical education and impresario work like nobody else had and nobody ever will. In our age of specialisation, his kind will never come again. His legacy lives on in his students, who have included the likes of Choo Hoey, Seow Yit Kin, Lynnette Seah, Lim Soon Lee, Kam Kee Yong and his three daughters (Vivien, Sylvia and Patricia), and the annual Centenary Award bestowed to deserving young string players that bears his name.



 

Since 2012, nine deserving young musicians have been awarded monetary grants (administered by the Community Foundation of Singapore) to further their musical studies and careers. Their names read like a young Who’s Who of music in Singapore today. This concert brought together six award winners in an enjoyable chamber concert,  reassuring one and all that the future of classical music in Singapore is in good hands.  


 

Kevin Loh (2018 winner) is the brightest guitarist to emerge from Singapore in many decades. Presently a Cambridge undergraduate, he helpfully reminded the audience that Goh Soon Tioe himself began his musical career as a guitarist. His studies had been sponsored by no less than Andres Segovia, who also served as mentor and guiding light. Kevin’s varied programme of transcriptions opened with J.S.Bach’s Prelude from Cello Suite No.6, characterised by rhythmic vigour and clarity of articulation. The Latino pieces were also well-contrasted, the vivacity of Albeniz’s popular Sevilla (originally a piano piece) alongside Astor Piazzolla’s slow tango Oblivion, a heart-felt portrayal of melancholy and untold tragedy.


 

Next came Italian opera composer Rossini’s Duet in D major for double bass and cello, composed for the great Domenico Dragonetti, who was hailed as “Paganini of the bass”. Bassist Julian Li (2013), who has served as principal in China’s Hangzhou Philharmonic and Guiyang Symphony, and Theophilus Tan (2015), cellist of the newly-formed Concordia Quartet, did the honours.

 

As with works by bass virtuosos, the orchestra’s largest instrument is no longer content with just providing mere accompaniment but having significant melodic lines of its own. Li showed himself to be very nimble in running passages, crowned by a melodic gift with bel canto qualities. The cello  also had melodic moments in the slow Andante molto movement, accompanied by bass pizzicatos, and the duet was completed with an enjoyable romp of the finale.


 

A much more familiar work was the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia, usually heard as a showpiece for violin and cello. In this instance, violinist Joey Lau (2017) and violist Joelle Hsu (2019) worked very well together, exhibiting good communication and the requisite “give and take” of chamber music performance while relishing in their virtuosic roles.  

 


Receiving a rare performance was Rachmaninov’s Trio Elegiaque No.1 in G minor, a teenaged work heavily influenced by Tchaikovsky, with violinist Helena Dawn Yah (2012, the inaugural awardee), cellist Theophilus Tan and guest pianist Jonathan Shin. In a short preamble, Shin explained that the trio’s main theme was in fact an inversion of the opening motif from Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. The work’s typically Slavic melancholy and dolour was very well brought out, oozing pathos from every pore.


 

The final work was by Austrian bassist and composer Johannes Matthias Sperger (1750-1812), whose highly congenial Quartet in D major in three movements had one guessing its various influences. Did it sound like Haydn, Mozart, or even the young Schubert? Sperger’s milestone dates indicate that he would have been familiar with the first two composers, while the instrumentation (with the violin replacing the original flute) suggests this was an example of hausmusik (household music) to be played by a group of musical-loving friends over schnapps.

 

As expected, bassist Julian Li had a lion’s share of melodic interest besides also having the most difficult part of all. He was excellent throughout, and well-supported by violinist Joey Lau, violist Joelle Hsu and a most busy cellist Theophilus Tan. Why don’t we ever get to hear this music with any regularity (instead of countless performances of the Trout Quintet)? At least one can trust and hope that the Goh Soon Tioe laureates, who are now a family of a kind, to revive the hausmusik movement sometime. Such an initiative led by these extremely talented young professionals will be most appreciated.   




Vivien Goh, daughter of Goh Soon Tioe
addresses the audience and
thanks the award winners.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

BOMSORI KIM IN RECITAL / Review



BOMSORI KIM IN RECITAL
with LIM YAN, Piano
Victoria Concert Hall
Sunday (18 April 2021)

This review was first published on Bachtrack on 19 April 2021 with the title "A fine Sunday afternoon’s fare from Korean violinist Bomsori Kim and pianist Lim Yan".

 

It has been over one year since a foreign soloist last performed in Singapore. Travel restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic have wreaked havoc on concert schedules involving visiting artists, but this impasse has finally been relaxed with Korean violinist Bomsori Kim appearing with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and giving a solo recital. For the record, the last visiting soloist to perform in Singapore was violinist Philippe Quint way back in 5 March of 2020.



 

In an hour-long programme, Kim showed what the fuss was all about, having signed a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon and being in great demand as a soloist. J.S.Bach’s Chaconne in D minor was an ideal opener, with her exercising a healthily robust tone, unafraid of exhibiting a broad vibrato all through the unaccompanied work. More importantly, she fully understood the overall architecture of its series of short variations, building arch-like to an impressive climax and completing the edifice. There was a momentary lapse in concentration towards the end, but there was no denying her artistry and instinctual grasp of the masterpiece.



 

Kim was joined by Singaporean pianist Lim Yan for Beethoven’s popular Spring Sonata. Lim is presently the Artistic Director of the Singapore International Piano Festival, and was the first local pianist to perform all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos in a cycle here in 2012. Both violinist and pianist elicited very good chemistry in a genre that specified the keyboard as the main protagonist.

 

In reality, they were equal partners in the sonata’s four movements, radiating genuine warmth and congeniality in the opening Allegro, while also benefiting from a driving impetus in its development.  The slow movement’s lyrical charms were not glossed over but lovingly voiced, before the brief Scherzo’s quickfire repartee had pulses racing again. For the finale, it was a return to the opening’s pastoral qualities, this time with an added urgency that made for a exciting finish.

 


The obligatory virtuoso showstopper was Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy. The Germany-born Jewish composer was best known as an Oscar-winning film composer, having scored for movies like Sunset Boulevard, Humoresque and Bride of Frankenstein. Although his Carmen Fantasy is less well-known as Sarasate’s despite having essentially the same popular Bizet tunes, it is a darker work that dwelled more on tragedy than surface glitz. The violin part is arguably technically more difficult but Kim took these in her stride and the duo romped to a brilliant close.

 

The clearly-enthused audience was rewarded with two popular encores. The sentimentality of Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs was milked for all its worth, while the gemütlich charms of Kreisler’s Schön Rosmarin raised more the smiles for a Sunday afternoon well spent.   



 
Star Rating: ****

BOMSORI KIM PLAYS MOZART / Singapore Symphony Orchestra / Review



BOMSORI KIM PLAYS MOZART

Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall

Saturday (17 April 2021)


This review was first published on Bachtrack on 19 April 2021 with the title "Singapore Symphony aces World Premiere of Paul von Klenau’s Eighth Symphony".

 

The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic and safe distancing measures mandated on performing groups have had a major impact on musical life in Singapore. Limiting ensembles to a maximum of thirty onstage performers has however led to creative programming choices. This concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra led by chief conductor Hans Graf was an excellent example.

 

Danish composer Paul von Klenau (1883-1946) is unlikely to be known outside of his native country. He studied and worked in Germany and Austria where Max Bruch, Ludwig Thuille and Max von Schillings among his teachers. A contemporary of Alban Berg and Anton Webern, he was also influenced by Arnold Schoenberg and Second Viennese School atonalism. His works included six operas (with the artist Rembrandt and Queen Elizabeth I of England among his subjects) and nine symphonies.



 

While his Ninth Symphony (1945) was a 90-minute choral symphony in eight movements, the Eighth Symphony (1943), subtitled “In olden style” (im alten stil), runs its course of four movements within fifteen minutes. Cast in the key of D major, it is first cousin to Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, a pastiche of the symphony form by Haydn and Mozart. Its musical idiom is however more Romantic, closer to the likes of Schubert, although one might also cite similarities to Max Reger (without the turgidity) or Richard Strauss (without the opulence).

 

Its attractiveness lay in brevity and directness of ideas, including a sunny but brief sonata-styled first movement followed by a slow movement opened by woodwinds accompanied by cello pizzicatos. There were solo passages for flute and oboe, lovingly voiced by principals Jin Ta and Rachel Walker. A mere hint of sobriety in the third movement’s Menuet was soon dispelled by the Rondo finale’s mercurial streak lit up by Jon Dante’s trumpet, where the convergence of Mozart and Prokofiev (without the irony) became most apparent. While this was neither a work of striking originality or genius, it was nevertheless well crafted and received the World Premiere - a performance of immediacy and sincerity - it deserved.   



 

Korean violinist Bomsori Kim became the first overseas soloist to perform with the SSO in over a year, and the high expectations engendered were not to be disappointed. Mozart’s underrated First Violin Concerto, the 1774 work of a 17-year-old piano and violin prodigy, proved to be an ideal vehicle for Kim’s musicality and sensitivity.

 

A sweet tone was coaxed from her 1774 J.B.Guadagnini, never over-bright in intensity but well-proportioned to the chamber-sized forces supporting her. Only in the first and third movement cadenzas did she take the liberty to let rip, and this was also tastefully done. As with all of Mozart’s slow movements, lyrical beauty in aria-like passages dominated, as the orchestra provided discreet and restrained accompaniment throughout. The virtuoso show in the sprightly finale was nicely balanced by Kim’s choice of encore: the Sarabande from J.S.Bach’s Partita No.2 (BWV.1004), where her unaccompanied violin’s voice was given full rein.          


 

The concert closed with Schubert’s youthful Fifth Symphony, where from its outset, the freshness of spring bubbled up like uncorked spirits. Under Graf’s direction, the first movement benefited from a clarity of thought and well-defined lines, allied by refined and cultivated playing. A good balance between strings and woodwinds was achieved in the slow movement, where no hair fell out of place. 


The spirit of Mozart hovered in the third movement’s bucolic Menuet (in G minor, thus bringing to mind Wolfgang Amadeus’ Symphony No.40) and the ebullient and fleet-footed finale. While the music’s merry-making delighted, it was the ensemble’s sense of nuances and subtleties which made the performance a memorable one.



Star Rating: ****

 

 

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

FLURRY OF THE FLUTE / Singapore Symphony Orchestra / Review


FLURRY OF THE FLUTE

Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall

Saturday (10 April 2021)


An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 14 April 2021 with the title "Lyrical flute paints picture of lyrical bliss".

 

Judging by the concert’s title, one might have expected the flute concerto programmed to be its main draw. In that respect, one would have been right as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s principal flautist Jin Ta gave a stunning performance of French composer Jacques Ibert’s Flute Concerto. The three-movement showpiece, although peppered with piquant dissonances, was mostly a lyrical work that suited Jin to the tee.



 

In its dreamy central slow movement, his pure and limpid tone painted a landscape of idyllic bliss, one that radiated the warm glow of summer. This was contrasted with virtuosic flourishes in the bustling opening movement, tossed off with an almost casual nonchalance, and the finale’s syncopations and riffs. A series of outlandish cadenzas, also cooly dispatched, completed its busy twenty minutes.


 


Led by chief conductor Hans Graf, the orchestra provided discreet and sensitive support but also  had the flexibility to let it rip when called upon. Jin’s encore, a jazzman’s take on the popular Love Song of Kangding accompanied by bassist Wang Xu, was simply delightful.

 

Social-distancing rules that limited ensembles to a maximum of 30 onstage performers led to rather creative programming choices. Two rarely heard symphonies, both in the dramatic and quasi-tragic key of C minor, were given deserved exposure on either side of the Ibert concerto.

 

Haydn’s Symphony No.95, receiving its Singapore premiere, does not have the dubious blessing of a nickname. While it lacked surprises, drumrolls and imitations of ticking clocks or clucking hens, it more than made up with the Austrian composer’s penchant with storms and stresses. The emphatic opening was given bold lashes, precisely hewn by the strings, its nervous tension balanced by a more sedate second subject.

 

This sense of push and pull provided the interest that was sustained all the way to the second movement’s theme and variations. Here and in the more lively Minuet and Trio yielded some beautiful solo playing by cellist Yu Jing. The finale had the lightness and ebullience of Mozart, finishing gratifyingly in the key of C major.



 

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.1, last played by the SSO in 1980, had its cobwebs dusted off with vehement zeal. The utterings of a precocious 15-year-old in the thrall of the late Mozart were passionately driven in the stormy first movement. This was contrasted by a hymn-like countenance in the Beethovenian slow movement distinguished by fine wind playing.

 

An urgency occupied the third movement Minuet, which went full tilt in the finale where the pathos of Mozart’s penultimate symphony was fervently relived. Mendelssohn was not copying Mozart, but paying homage, including a fugal episode and a triumphal apotheosis as C minor morphed into glorious C major.

 

The pleasing symmetry afforded by both symphonies and ardent performances made this 100-minute concert without intermission (the longest post circuit-breaker) an unmitigated pleasure.