Wednesday, 7 December 2022

SOUVENIRS DE FETE / SEIKA ISHIDA PLAYS MOZART / Review




SOUVENIRS DE FETE

Miyuki Washimiya, Piano Recital

Esplanade Recital Studio

Tuesday (29 November 2022)

 

SEIKA ISHIDA PLAYS MOZART

Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Victoria Concert Hall

Wednesday (30 November 2022)


This review was published in The Straits Times on 6 December 2022 with the title "Japanese pianists Miyuki Washimiya and Seika Ishida in fine form."

 

In an interview, internationally renowned Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa once gave reasons why there were so many women pianists in Japan. Japanese society dictated that men went into stable and profitable professions like medicine, law, engineering and civil service, while women were encouraged to pursue music and fine arts. She also suggested that should the women not make their careers, marriage was still an option.



 

Two very fine lady Japanese pianists were heard on consecutive evenings last week. Keyboard veteran Miyuki Washimiya has regularly appeared here in concerts presented by Kris Foundation, both as soloist and in collaboration with young local musicians. The Paris-trained pianist opened her recital with Mozart’s Sonata in F major (K.280), displaying crispness of articulation and a fluid technique to bring out the music’s lyricism.


Photo: Kris Foundation

 

The major work was Francis Poulenc’s Les Soirees de Nazelles (The Evenings Of Nazelles), rarely played because of virtuosic demands and myriad intricacies in moods and dynamics. Its eight variations, each with fanciful French titles, were vignettes of close personal friends. Quirky, humourous but ultimately congenial, these found a sympathetic interpreter in Washimiya’s resolute yet sensitive fingers.



 

Young Singaporean composer Lim Kang Ning’s two piano pieces were also revealed as miniature masterpieces. The highly-spirited Flower Visages was coloured by Chinese influences, contrasted with A Japanese Poem - receiving its world premiere - which was more formal, subtler and possessing darker shades. Both works repay further listening.


Photo: Kris Foundation

 

Rhythmic works by three Latino composers - Alberto Ginastera’s wildly exuberant Three Argentinian Dances, Federico Mompou’s gentler Song & Dance No.6, and the sweeping chords and glissandi of Manuel de Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance - completed Washimiya’s recital on a high. Her encores of Sakura-Sakura and Poulenc’s Homage To Edith Piaf were also very well received.

 

Miyuki Washimiya with
Kris Tan and Lim Kang Ning.


Photo: Jack Yam / Singapore Symphony Orchestra

From the younger generation is Seika Ishida, who performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor (K.466) with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra under former Principal Guest Conductor Andrew Litton. This was a performance that had everything; the sturm und drang (storm and stress) of outer movements salved by the central Romanza’s tenderness and beauty. Even this had its fair share of upheaval, with tension at its heart finely balanced on a knife-edge.


Photo: Jack Yam / Singapore Symphony Orchestra

 

SSO’s was an ever-discreet partner to Ishida’s every line and phrase, allowing her freedom to flex every muscle and fibre of musicality. Cadenzas were delivered with big-boned sonorities, and if one felt the first two movements a tad restrained, no apologies were made going for broke in the finale, turning urgency into joie de vivre. Her encore was also special, a Chopin-influenced little gem that is Russian composer Anatol Liadov’s Prelude in D flat major (Op.57 No.1).

 



Photo: Jack Yam / Singapore Symphony Orchestra

 

Equally splendid was the rest of the programme, beginning with short-lived American composer Charles Griffes’s Poem, featuring SSO principal flautist Jin Ta as soloist. Tired of hearing Debussy’s Prelude To The Afternoon Of The Faun? This was the perfect antidote, with an even more fleshed-out solo part. Its dreamy languor backed with lush orchestral colour, and solos from French horn, trumpet and viola, made this an ideal overture.   


Photo: Jack Yam / Singapore Symphony Orchestra

 

Closing the memorable evening was Tchaikovsky’s Suite No.3 in G major, a rarity compared with his symphonies. Although light-weight in character, its four movements had a balletic feel which made it impossible to dislike. Strings were in fine form for the opening Elegie and melancholic Waltz, while chirpy woodwinds simply ruled in the whimsical Scherzo.


Concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich
gets the plaudits from conductor Andrew Litton.

 

Most substantial was the finale’s Theme and Variations, eventful as it was inventive. SSO former concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich had a plum solo, worthy of the best minutes in Swan Lake, delivered with stunning aplomb. Concluding with a most rousing of polonaises (the Polish dance of nobility), both conductor Litton and the orchestra had the audience roaring for more.  

 


Tuesday, 29 November 2022

MOZART FLUTE & HARP CONCERTO / Singapore Symphony Orchestra / Review




MOZART FLUTE & HARP CONCERTO

Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Victoria Concert Hall

Friday 25 November 2022


This review was published in Bachtrack on 28 November 2022 with the title "Singapore Symphony principals and Ludovic Morlot delight in Mozart".

 

Presented as part of the Voilah! France Singapore Festival, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra led by French conductor Ludovic Morlot, current Music Director of the Barcelona Symphony and Conductor Emeritus of the Seattle Symphony, had to include something French in this concert. Thus Darius Milhaud’s single-act ballet Le Boeuf sur le Toit (The Ox on the Roof) opened the evening.



 

Its Dadaist title was typical of 1920s Parisian chic, where meaningless or seemingly ridiculous titles belied art of a more serious kind. The music reflected a cosmopolitanism that was all a rage, a Provencale composer dabbling in exuberant Brazilian rhythms. Infectiously danceable and outrageously hip, it was jarring polytonality that caught the ear. Woodwinds played in different keys from the strings for stretches, yet these meshed together well. As repetitious as some parts were, there was always mischief afoot and the players were alive to it all. Was this jazz, vaudeville or dance hall music? Perhaps a bit of all those, but these days we simply use the term “crossover”.


Percussionist Mark Suter plays the guiro,
or scraper, commonly heard in South American music.


 

The riot then gave way to the courtly formalities of Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp in C major (K.299), featuring two of Singapore Symphony’s long-serving principals, flautist Jin Ta and harpist Gulnara Mashurova. Truth be told, this was more a vehicle for the flautist, who carried most of the melodies and added flourishes of his own, while the harpist provided delicate accompaniment. As a duo, they worked perfectly fine, aided by a pared down orchestra of strings, two oboes and two horns, which played as discreetly as possible.



 

Virtuoso cadenzas provided by Carl Reinecke at the end of each movement gave scope for display, while the harp was afforded the luxury of opening the Rondeau finale with a show of individual prowess. Musical poetry was the order of the day, not least in the aria-like central Andantino and later in the duo’s encore, an original work by Jin Ta, Phoenix Song, filled with piquant impressionist harmonies and colours.



 

Robert Schumann’s First Symphony in B flat major, or the “Spring” Symphony formed the concert’s second half. Poor Schumann has been accused of being a weak orchestrator, and his symphonic reputation suffered for being neither Beethoven nor Brahms. However, conductor Morlot’s tautly-knit vision of the work, played without extraneous additions by other composers who sought to “improve” it, will change minds.

 

The opening trumpet fanfare signalled intent in its introduction, before launching into the Allegro molto vivace which possessed an inner tension and urgency. Further excitement was provided by a single triangle (appearing only in the opening movement) whose celebratory tintinnabulation might have given Liszt ideas for his First Piano Concerto. What about the Beethovenian slow movement, the second subject of which later became the main theme of Brahms’ Third Symphony? Despite everything, Schumann was definitely influential and was not just writing orchestrated piano music.



 

The Scherzo third movement in G minor was delivered with true sturm und drang, its rapid shifts in pace and tempi skilfully negotiated. Despite the finale’s grand opening flourish, this music was more about lightness and humour. Pianophiles will recognise one of its themes to be the eighth and  final fantasy from Schumann’s Kreisleriana, with its E.T.A.Hoffmann associations. It was with this levity that the symphony closed, and judging by the applause, clearly appreciated by the audience.

 


Photo: Alvin Ho / Singapore Symphony Orchestra


Star Rating: ****

Thursday, 24 November 2022

THE WORLD CUP 2002 EXPERIENCE... SO FAR




THE WORLD CUP 

EXPERIENCE 2022

... SO FAR

 

Long before I really discovered classical music, I had been following football. My interest goes back to the mid-1970s when the Singapore national team competed for the Malaysia Cup, and the thrilling World Cup qualifying round that took place in Singapore (the venerated old National Stadium, now demolished) in 1977. How I cheered for the likes of Quah Kim Song, Dollah Kassim, Mohamed Noh and Uncle Choo’s merry band of ballers. My first World Cup experience was in 1978, won by Argentina (even fervent prayers for the Netherlands did not work), and have been following the tournament ever since.

 

Nostalgia forbids me from giving up watching football totally. What happens during a World Cup year when you do not have cable TV at home or are unwilling to pay a ransom for subscription? My usual solution was to visit my Leeds-supporting brother Tou Yuen and enjoy his wide-screen TV. His apartment is under renovation, so where do I go now?


Note the banners representing
all the 32 national teams.
 

The perfect solution presented itself with free “live” screenings at numerous Community Clubs all around Singapore. The most convenient one for me was the Bukit Timah Community Club on Jalan Jurong Kechil, just a casual ten-minute walk from Bukit Timah Plaza. Having not visited the CC for ages (not since President Halimah Yacob was a humble back-bencher MP), I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it had been significantly upgraded. Screenings took place in its air-conditioned multi-purpose hall, capable of holding a few hundred people. And it was packed on the opening evening for England vs Iran.



 

I remember following the 2018 World Cup, watching the England vs Panama match in Georgetown, Penang at a screening hall in a converted warehouse. As I was the only (!!!) person present, there was zero atmosphere as Three Lions romped home 6-1. England vs Iran was to be a significant upgrade as well, where everyone present was alive to the action that unfolded.



 

There were children, grandparents and every sort of person in between. There had been food before the match, no alcohol (much like in Qatar) but free flow of coffee and hot/cold water was available. Children were busy at foosball during the half-time intermission, adults discussed merits of each team, and there was a generally congenial atmosphere all round. Handphone-holding punters and bookies were surprising nowhere to be found. (They mostly congregate at coffee shops, it has to be said.) I spotted an ex-patient and ex-church organist among the throng, and all could be forgiven for being a closet football fan once in four years.



 

Goals from either side were cheered with equal vehemence, and the underdog always received louder and more prolonged applause. I wore my England, Argentine and German copy jerseys on three successive evenings, and nobody questioned my allegiances. Everybody was here to have fun, and that was all that mattered.


 



Monday 21 November 2022

England 6 Iran 2

 

England dominance from the outset. Five different scorers, none of whom are named Harry Kane. Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka receives redemption with two superb goals. “Slabhead” Maguire should have gotten a penalty, but Iran get it instead. So is football coming home?

 



Tuesday 22 November 2022

Argentina 1 Saudi Arabia 2

 

First big shock of WC22. Argentina and Messi were slack, while Saudi back four as solid as the Black Stone. Nothing gets past it, unless its offside, or a Messi penalty. Two wonder goals from Alshehri and Aldawsari within four minutes will be celebrated forever.



 

Wednesday 23 November 2022

Japan 2 Germany 1

 

Second great shock of WC22. Almost a repeat of Shock #1. Fancied team scores first (also from a penalty), but the Samurai Blue mount a second half reply. This is not a kamikaze attack but a well coordinated response with super goals from supersubs Doan and Asano. The audience erupts with delight; Syonan-To, 1942 and all that have pretty much been forgotten. 


So what about Goh Chok Tong's
grandiose dream for Singapore to play
in the World Cup Finals by 2010?


Wednesday, 23 November 2022

TSUNG YEH 20 / Singapore Chinese Orchestra / Review




TSUNG YEH 20

Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Singapore Conference Hall

Saturday (19 November 2022) 


This review was published in The Straits Times on 23 November 2022 with the title "Yeh Tsung leads superbly honed charges".

 

Twenty years may be considered a relatively short stretch of time, but what Yeh Tsung has accomplished with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra as its Music Director since 2002 has been little short of awe-inspiring. During his tenure, he commissioned many new works for the medium of massed traditional Chinese instruments, including establishing a musical genre incorporating Southeast Asian elements now known as Nanyang music.


The official launch of the
Tsung Yeh 20 commemorative book.

 

This concert, commemorating his 20th anniversary at SCO’s helm, had a maritime theme which relived landmark works from his first ten years. Central to its narrative were two explorers of historical times, Zheng He (Cheng Ho) and Marco Polo, alluding to Yeh’s role as an intrepid discoverer of new pathways in Chinese music.    



 

Former SCO Composer-in-Residence Eric Watson’s Sea – The Source of Life, written for the 2007 National Day Parade opened the concert. Its quiet beginning was a beautiful evocation of dawn, leading to a faster section filled with dance rhythms reflecting different cultures and ethnicities. The lively music declared that the sea belonged to everybody, and this feel-good number made for a rousing prelude.   



 

Next were three movements from another former Composer-in-Residence Law Wai Lun’s Zheng He - Admiral Of The Seven Seas, a large-scaled work commissioned for the 2005 Singapore Arts Festival. Its imposing opening, Sea Burial, led by plangent winds and percussion, saw the Hand of Fate deal the Ming dynasty commander an untimely demise. With SYC Ensemble Singers (Chong Wai Lun, Chorus Master) at full tilt, the echoes of O Fortuna from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana seemed almost appropriate even if the latter had more to do with itinerant Bavarian monks.




 

For this cantata, there were a key roles for narrator Jeffrey Low and tenor Zhuang Jie, and a cameo for soprano Joyce Lee Tung, who were excellent in fleshing out the romance of Zheng’s humble origins. The Voyage was the performance’s most colourful segment, a quasi-Wagnerian sojourn from Orient to Middle East, a picturesque seascape with birdsong later culminating in a rhapsody of Arabian dance movements. Here the imaginative scoring revealed Chinese orchestral instruments at their fullest potential.        




 

The concert’s second half comprised three movements from Liu Yuan’s Marco Polo and Princess Blue, composed for the Esplanade Opening Festival in 2002. Featuring similar forces and projecting as big sonorities as Zheng He, this was unfortunately the most derivative work of all.   




 

Its story centred on a fictional romance between Venetian explorer Marco Polo and the Kokachin Princess Buluhan, as he escorted the royal from Cathay by sea to her prospective marriage in Persia. As Providence has it, when they reach Eden in the East (guess where?), love blossoms. With every exposure, this music becomes increasingly cringeworthy and embarrassing.



 

The supposed love music with Italianate flavour (Neapolitan to be said) builds up inexorably, reaching a grand apotheosis with none other than the 1960s song Singapura (Oh Singapura, Sunny Island Set In The Sea)! Its grandiose Mahlerian ending, magnificently delivered by all on stage, nevertheless elicited a standing ovation. Hopefully this was for Maestro Yeh and his superbly honed charges, rather than the music. 



Leong Weng Kam, author of the
Tsung Yeh 20 commemorative book.

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

MARTHA ARGERICH & FRIENDS: LIVE IN SINGAPORE / Review




MARTHA ARGERICH 

& FRIENDS

LIVE IN SINGAPORE

Esplanade Concert Hall

Monday to Wednesday 

(7-9 November 2022)


This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 November 2022 with the title "Martha Argerich and family thrill in mini music festival".

 

Presented by Altenburg Arts with the Orchestra of the Music Makers, Argentina-born Martha Argerich, regarded by many to be the world’s greatest living pianist, made a welcome return to Singapore. This time she was joined by two members of her family, eldest daughter violist Lyda Chen Argerich and 14-year-old pianist grandson David Chen. Also in the entourage for the mini-festival were Argentine conductor-pianist Dario Ntaca and South Korean pianist Yunchan Lim, staying on after his splendid solo recital.


Photo: Yong Junyi

 

The first evening was a peek at chamber music-making in the three-generation Argerich household. Some 67 years separate Martha and David, who opened with Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite for piano four hands. The teenager cut a confident figure, and egged on by encouraging and kindly looks from his grand-mere, they coaxed a disciplined yet loving reading together.




 

Both pianists also took turns to accompany Lyda in Clara Schumann’s Three Romances (Op.22). Her viola’s singing tone came through in these lyrical and warm-hearted pieces no matter who was manning the keyboard. It was left for the young man to complete the first half with Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, impressing with both musicality and restraint.

 




The second half saw Argerich and Ntaca tackling Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances for two pianos. This was a disappointment, sounding under-rehearsed and lacking in tension. There were, however, some pretty moments in the central movement’s waltz, and the Orthodox chant-inspired finale was fitfully exciting. It took the electrifying encore of Debussy’s Fetes (Festivals, as arranged by Ravel) to remind one what four-hands piano playing was about.


Photo: Yong Junyi


 

The second evening, entitled Romantics, was more satisfying. Young David made his official concerto debut in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, once the longest piano concerto in existence. How he kept his composure and concentration over three long movements, making music while overcoming its trickiest bits was a marvel in itself. His playing displayed sincerity and the ability to communicate. He has been taught well, and a bright future beckons.




 

The main event had to be Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor from the Grand Dame herself. Here was vintage Martha, her full-blooded passion bringing the warhorse to life and then some. Cascades of chords opened the work, and lyricism was in full flow from there. Despite the virtuosic spiels from start to finish, this was still ultimately chamber music. Both soloist and orchestra negotiated its complex interplay and rhythmic intricacies with stunning aplomb for a grandstand close. Encores by Schumann and J.S.Bach, tossed off with an easy nonchalance, furthered her legend.


Photo: Yong Junyi


 

This concert might not have been a great success if not for the excellent partnership provided by the Orchestra of the Music Makers conducted by Dario Ntaca. The ensemble also shined in Wagner’s blazing Prelude to Act 3 of Lohengrin and Brahms’ Tragic Overture which provided the dramatics before each concerto.

 



The final evening saw the Argerich pianists sit it out as Lyda opened with German composer Paul Hindemith’s Trauermusik (Music for Mourning), written in response to the death of King George V in 1936. Her dusky viola tone was perfectly complemented by just orchestral strings during for brief moments of reflection. The full orchestra then emerged to give a riveting account of Rimsky-Korsakov’s four-movement symphonic suite Scheherazade. Concertmaster Zhao Tian (violin) and Charity Kiew (harp) shone as obbligato soloists, and there were many standout moments for massed strings, winds and brass as well.


 
Mother and daughter having a
heart-to-heart talk during the intermission.

 



Photo: Yong Junyi

The festival concluded with South Korean pianist Yunchan Lim, most recent Cliburn Competition winner, in Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, or the Emperor Concerto. High expectations raised by his solo recital were fully realised in a clean-cut reading that did not stint on bluster or outright fireworks. Amid the incessant heroics called for in outer movements, that he found a wellspring of poetry for the slow movement remained this performance’s abiding memory.

 





One thing was certain over three evenings of passionate music-making: virtuosity means little if it does not have heart.

 

Encores performed:

 

7 November 2022

Debussy Fetes from Trois Nocturnes (arr.Ravel)

 

8 November 2022

Schumann Von fremden Landen und menschen 

  (Of foreigns lands and people) from Kinderszenen Op.15

J.S.Bach Gavotte I & II from English Suite No.3 in G minor

 

9 November 2022

Bach-Kempff Siciliano