Thursday 15 July 2010

A SYMPHONIC JOURNEY by Singapore National Youth Orchestra / Review


Singapore National Youth Orchestra

Darrell Ang, Conductor

Esplanade Concert Hall

Tuesday (13 July 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 15 July 2010.

The past week has been a veritable showcase of young Singaporean musicians at their best. Now it was left to the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO), grandfather of local youth groups with roots going back to the 1960s, to prove what a class act it still is.

Ears were immediately piqued in Vaughan Williams’ Overture to The Wasps, where its opening “buzzing sequence” swarmed with a true sting in its tail. The strings responded with great immediacy, drawing much incisiveness and a homogeneous unity. The big pastoral hymn tune was delivered with much warmth, as was the music’s undisguised humour.

Kudos go to whoever programmed a concerto for the orchestra’s least visible instrument. American Lowell Lieberman’s Concerto for Piccolo (1996) was the unlikely vehicle for 18-year-old Jasper Goh Chien Teng’s (left) astounding show of virtuosity. Written in the Romantic idiom, the concerto superficially resembled Barber’s Violin Concerto, with two slow movements rounded off with a rip-roaring finale.

The high-pitched piccolo, darling of marching bands, has a bittersweet yet poignant timbre that Goh brought out with beguiling beauty. In the 2nd movement, it blended seamlessly with the flutes, and for a minute of aural magic, accompanied by the piquant vibraphone. All this set the tone for the madcap freewheeling that closed the work, with cheeky quotes from Mozart, Beethoven and John Philip Sousa sucked into a swirling vortex.

The concert’s main event was Jean Sibelius’ heroic Second Symphony. Here guest conductor Darrell Ang (left), who conducted the entire concert from memory, led a very tight ship from start to finish. Coaxing a tautly urgent performance, the playing seemed on a razor’s edge throughout. The strings exuded a gorgeous glow, complemented by rock-sturdy but sometimes brash brass, with slightly less confident woodwinds making up the numbers.

However the miracle of this performance was its flexibility, which morphed from velvet to granite within a matter of seconds, and the sheer sense of inexorability heading towards the final climax. The ensemble lived dangerously, and for moments in the finale, almost coming apart at the seams. Taking risks is what being young is all about. You are certain of being forgiven, while becoming better for the experience. The encore, Sibelius’ Andante Festivo for strings, was pure pleasure. Has anybody heard the SNYO play better than this?

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