Tuesday 30 April 2013


Singapore Symphony Orchestra Chamber Series
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (28 April 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 April 2013 with the title "Charmed by early music".

It is always refreshing to witness the Singapore Symphony Orchestra performing early music conceived on a small scale. Several weeks ago, Christopher Hogwood conducted the orchestra in a sparkling evening of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn built around a Turkish theme. The revelation was that the orchestra of modern instruments, not usually accustomed to period performance practice, could adapt so well to the idiom.

The pair of baroque concerts led by violinist Peter Hanson (left), who has decades of experience working in “authentic” instrumental groups, would be equally absorbing. The orchestra was split into two separate small ensembles, each playing a different programme. A mix of popular and lesser known works also minimised the curse of the familiar.

Sunday afternoon opened with two concerti grosso, the predominant form for baroque ensembles that was later supplanted by the symphony. Arcangelo Corelli (right), the violin virtuoso that he was, ensured that the solo violinists Hanson, Lynnette Seah and cellist Ng Pei Sian were kept busy in his Concerto Grosso in D major (Op.6 No.4).

Two oboists and a bassoonist joined the strings for the five movements of Handel’s Concerto Grosso in D minor (Op.3 No.5), adding a different colour to the group. Despite the vastness of the hall, the very clear textures and immaculate sound came across with much vividness and not a little reverberation. What was lacking was a sense of intimacy, which will be fixed when Victoria Concert Hall reopens in 2014.

The most curious work of the concert was Georg Philipp Telemann’s 8-movement Suite called The Nations, composed for the 18th century equivalent of a World Expo in Hamburg. Each of its quirkily scored dances paid tribute to the countries represented; vigorous and rhythmic for The Turks, alternating slow and fast for The Swiss, and bell-like sonorities produced by bass and cello ostinatos for The Muscovites. Charming.

The last two works of the 80-minute concert were the best known. Yet it was a pleasant surprise to see only 11 players in Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto – three each of violins, violas and cellos, one bass and a harpsichord. Light and buoyant, but never thin, was the result. Hanson’s improvised solo was a delight, leading up the central movement’s two obligatory chords before the finale’s joyous counterpoint at full speed.

The concert closed with Vivaldi’s popular Concerto for Four Violins in B minor, where Hanson was joined by SSO violinists Jin Li, Cindy Lee and Ye Lin. The teamwork was impeccable, with each player’s solos gratefully lapped up and complemented, and the general ensemble supporting at full tilt. Acknowledging the eager applause, the finale was encored. Let us have more of such concerts again soon.


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