Friday 29 July 2022

T'ANG QUARTET: GIFT OF MUSIC / T'ang Quartet / Review



T’ang Quartet

Esplanade Recital Studio

Wednesday (27 July 2022)


After Mark 2.0 of Singapore’s T’ang Quartet was unveiled in April this year, the foursome of violinists Ng Yu Ying and Ang Chek Meng, violist Han Oh and cellist Wang Zihao has gotten down to hard graft with a pair of concerts. This opening evening was a fund-raiser, coinciding with the launch of a coffee table book on the quartet’s 30 years written by Ivan Lim. Thirty years of an ensemble’s history is a significant milestone, and the event got exactly what it deserved – a programme of serious classics which makes no concessions for newbies or beginners, the sort one would find at home in Wigmore Hall and other august concert venues.

The founder-members of T'ang Quartet,
Ng Yu Ying and Ang Chek Meng
address the audience.


There was also a pleasing yin and yang to the works, major key Mozart paired with minor key Brahms. The evening opened with Mozart’s String Quartet in C major K.465 also nicknamed "Dissonance", one of six quartets dedicated to the "Father of string quartets" himself, Joseph Haydn. Its nickname was made apparent at its outset, a throbbing beat from the cello, followed by entries from viola and first violin who gave no clue as to what the key was. This must have bewildered its first listeners in extremis, the sort of joke Haydn would have heartily approved, before winding down to the “safe” home key of C major.


The Allegro proper, in the proper key, was sunny and optimistic, allied with a show of cohesive playing. The slow movement radiated warmth and lyricism, before the Minuet and Trio's more animated pages. The trio section was in the minor key but not possessing the same startling quality as the quartet's opening. The same could be said of the finale's alternating between major and minor keys, which was not all lightness and fun. The quartet however did its utmost to bring out the music's humour. It is a "Haydn Quartet", after all. 


After a short interval was Brahms’s First String Quartet in C minor (Op.51 No.1), which was striking for its austerity. Its spirit of sturm und drang (storm and stress) may seem anachronistic, but the German composer was above all a classicist and “guardian of the old school”. Bristling with energy and vitality, the quartet revelled in its tautness and thematic economy. The three-note motif introduced soon after its fiery opening would appear in different guises throughout the work, which made is all the more interesting.


The introspective and hymn-like slow movement radiated an inner glow, and this is where the quartet really showed its togetherness. While not a true Scherzo, the third movement’s Intermezzo saw a return to some degree of tension seemed the natural thing, contrasted by a lighter and almost carefree Trio that resembled folk music. The finale opened at a furious pace, and the spirit was never allowed to flag as the quartet wound to a passionate close. This work is a tough nut to crack, for both performers and listeners. Especially for listeners, but kudos go to T’ang Quartet for shedding some daylight on its apparent mysteries and well-kept secrets.   


The sole encore was a surprise, a well-known tune dressed up in late Romantic Brahmsian garb. Local composer and arranger Bang Wenfu’s very idiomatic transcription of Dick Lee’s Home brought a hint of recognition and many smiles as the nation heads into its well-earned fifty-seventh birthday. Arising from the ashes of the Covid-19 pandemic, the second coming of T’ang Quartet is well, up and running. 


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