Tuesday 8 September 2009

SPANISH FANTASIA by The Philharmonic Winds / Review

The Philharmonic Winds
Luis Serrano Alarcon, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (6 September 2009)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 8 September 2009.

Concerts by The Philharmonic Winds are always well subscribed, regardless of the programme or composers presented. Thus it was no great surprise that a concert of works by a young Spanish composer-conductor Luis Serrano Alarcon (below) proved to be a popular hit. Alarcon’s Concertango had been very well received at a previous concert by this group.

The key to Alarcon’s appeal is in his ability to orchestrate a sound that is commercial yet not low brow, one exploiting colours and emotions to excellent effect. His Pequena Suite (Little Suite) was ample proof. By accentuating the brilliant and parodying the grotesque, its four movements evocatively conjured fantasy scenarios and went down easily like a Disney film score. Its bittersweet Vals (Waltz) was reminiscent of similar dance movements from Shostakovich's two Jazz Suites.
His Tramonto (Sunset) for solo cello and winds breathed like a concerto slow movement, its epic and tragic quality unfolding like something Yo-Yo Ma might play in the movies. In this case, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory cello professor Qin Li-Wei (left) coaxed a full-throated plaint from this tear-jerker, and there was never a fear he would be drowned out. His scintillating encore, Alone by Italian Giovanni Sollima, completed a virtuoso trip.

Alarcon also displayed more serious sides to his work. A metronome and massed voices from the band opened De Tiempo y Quimera (Time and Illusion), the most abstract work on show, which showcased fine solos from the flute and vibraphone.

The seven continuous movements of Memorias de un hombre de ciudad (Memoirs of a City Man) were however more down to earth, a brutal portrayal of urban life as some jungle or war-zone. Its mind numbing ostinatos, a “toccata of toil”, brought to mind some of the best pages from Stravinsky and Revueltas. As a contrast, the sultry saxophone provided an illusory relief of high hopes and aspirations.

Spanish folk music closed the evening, with band treatments by Alarcon and Geronimo Gimenez of the pasodoble (a march-like dance in double step) and zarzuela (light musical theatre) respectively. There were no voices in the latter, but a mélange of popular melodies, from the Malaguena to the Jota Aragonesa. With hand-clapping and foot-stamping stuff right to the end, and it was difficult to distinguish which had a better time: the wind players or the audience.

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