Saturday 1 June 2024

HIGHLY STRUNG / Yang Shuxiang & re:Sound / Review


Yang Shuxiang (Violin) & re:Sound 
Victoria Concert Hall 
Thursday (30 May 2024)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 June 2024 with the title "Violinist Yang Shuxiang's high impact playing boosts re:Sound's Baltic programme".

Trust re:Sound Collective to have the most adventurous of programming among local professional orchestras. At risk of box-office death was its latest concert, which attracted a relatively small audience, all because it had the temerity to undertake Singapore premieres of works by two important Baltic composers. 

The first was Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Pelimannit or The Fiddlers (Op.1), a suite comprising five short movements based on tunes played by Finnish folk fiddlers during the 19th century. Originally for piano, it was orchestrated for strings in 1972, sounding like a Baltic version of Bela Bartok’s Romanian Dances

The ensemble generated a rich canvas of sonority, even mimicking punch-drunk antics of village musicians with off-key intonation and intoxicated slurs. Leader Yang Shuxiang’s violin had the tricky solos, accompanied by his merry band in a tipsy romp all in good fun. 

Photo: @joelcaptures

More serious was the Violin Concerto (1996-97) by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks (born 1946) titled Distant Light, with Yang as soloist in hyper-virtuoso mode. In eleven connected parts, and playing for almost 35 minutes, it rivals Tchaikovsky’s famous Violin Concerto in terms of scope and length. 

Yang’s opening solo, combining trills, glissandi and ascending into ear-splitting tinnitus may have screamed avant-garde but the music soon settled into reassuring A minor with its comforting cushioned string accompaniment. While this was not easy listening by a long stretch, it was accessible in the way that “spiritual minimalist” composers of the late 20th century tend to be. 

Estonian composer Arvo Part’s stock-in-trade tintinnabulous scores come to mind, but Vasks seemed to plumb deeper besides having a more human feel about it. Almost tailor-made for Yang’s highly passionate emo-personality, the music positively bristled in his visceral approach and high impact style. 

Photo: @joelcaptures

This culminated in a series of feverish cadenzas balanced on a tight-rope, each more fiendish than the last. Almost apologetic was the orchestra’s response, such as providing some kind of soothing salve or going on some demented waltz. Closing with a netherworldly whisper, impressive Yang might has just given the most important local premiere in recent times. 

After a short intermission, Yang returned to lead the orchestra, now boosted by winds, brass and timpani, in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No.36 in C major, also known as the Linz Symphony. Despite its familiarity, re:Sound made it sound freshly minted. There was nothing tentative in the opening movement’s slow introduction, and the ensuing Allegro was lit up with its knowing quote of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus

The slow movement flowed like oil, which Mozart desired in his music. The lively Minuet took on a rollicking quality, contrasted by the utter grace of its Trio. As an expression of joie de vivre, there was little to top the irrepressible Presto finale, its operatic buffo quality not undone by some idiot’s handphone going off midway. As fine ensembles go, re:Sound is Singapore’s solution to London’s Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

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