Esplanade Concert Hall
Recorded in January 2021
Orchestral concerts are not back to what it was pre-Covid, and no thanks to the recent heightened measures taken in May-June, further concerts had to be cancelled. Online concerts have become a new normal, and no less than the Singapore Symphony Orchestra has relied on this platform to share its art. The Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) has done the same, employing the same recording specialists (msm-productions and Dancing Legs Productions) to do its bidding, and the results have been just as spectacular.
Viewing this latest concert video of mostly-French music (https://youtu.be/1cPx8g16Mic), and one will be challenged to decide which is the national orchestra and which is the independent youth orchestra formed by students, free-lancers, working non-musical professionals, and a handful of SSO players. Even the OMM’s programming has been one of sophistication, combining popular with less heralded works, as well as commissioning young local composers for orchestral transcriptions.
Conducted by Seow Yibin, the concert began with Debussy’s Reverie (originally a piano work) orchestrated by Lee Jinjun, who also played the trumpet in this concert (but not in this piece). This made for a calm and atmospheric prelude, with Vincent Goh’s solo clarinet providing the opening melody before the theme being passed around. Ethereal strings (with occasional use of harmonics) and the ever-evocative harp lent the performance an other-wordly feel it deserved.
The four orchestrated movements of Ravel’s piano suite La Tombeau de Couperin (excepting the Fugue and Toccata) followed, opening with a flowing Prélude which saw solo woodwinds negotiating multiple tricky turns with great aplomb. This was pretty much a woodwind masterclass, continuing into the bouncily syncopated Forlane, and the Menuet where solo oboist Tay Kai Tze had the choicest of plum parts. His excellence also shone through in the slow central section of the rollicking Rigaudon, which closed the suite on a high.
Prokofiev’s only Flute Sonata, orchestrated by Jonathan Shin, has become Prokofiev’s Flute Concerto, now receiving its world premiere. This has the same music as the Russian’s Second Violin Sonata, which had been for reconfigured for David Oistrakh from its flute origins. One wonders why it did not become a third violin concerto as well. At any rate, Shin’s is a totally idiomatic and faithful transcription, one which gave soloist Cheryl Lim full rein to express her virtuosity.
Hers has never been one of outward flashiness, instead she is completely assured and totally musical. Her tone is gorgeous and limpid, well suited for the work’s broad vistas of sheer lyricism in the opening and Andante third movements. Even in the thorniest passages of the Scherzo, she remained unfazed, leaping over hurdles and through hoops with seeming comfort and ease. For the jocular finale, the was overarching spirit was one of unremitting joy, bringing to a close a performance of utmost satisfaction. When can we get to hear the violin version of this concerto, from the likes of Alan Choo or Yang Shuxiang?
Francis Poulenc’s four-movement Sinfonietta (1947) is too modestly titled. Running over 30 minutes, it is actually a fully fledged symphony, longer than all of Mozart’s symphonies and at least three Beethoven symphonies. It is scandalously neglected and I do not remember the SSO ever programming it, so kudos to OMM for possibly giving its Singapore premiere.
It contains all of the Frenchman’s grace, charm, sumptuous melodies and good humour, and the same uplifting spirit as his better-known ballet Les Biches (1924). Poulenc was no modernist, but one will detect influences of Stravinsky from his neo-classical phase, the infectiously chugging rhythms of the fast outer movements and svelte strings (think Apollon Musagetes) of the slow third movement.
While one might marvel at the typically comedic high jinks regularly offered up, it was the slower lingering passages, such as midway in the first movement and finale, which showed the ensemble at its subtle and sublime best. This was a very fine performance with much to be proud of, distinguished by very confident woodwind and brass playing and a general cohesiveness from conductor Seow’s firm yet flexible control from start to finish. It was so good I had to rewatch the whole Sinfonietta and pinch myself about the quality of the music and its playing. Perhaps OMM might also want to look at Prokofiev’s Sinfonietta as well.
Highly pleasurable concerts such as this should be enjoyed by a full-house Esplanade Concert Hall, and one simply cannot wait for audiences to return. It is a big hope, but that is what will buoy us through these troubled times.
Watch it here:
and its free of charge,
thanks to the National Arts Council.