November 27, 2013

from Classical to Romantic – a review

from Classical to Romantic – a review

With the sponsorship of LANXESS, young musicians from the Singapore National Youth Orchestra have benefitted from the wealth of experience and mentorship of world-famous musicians. Some of them have even taken masterclasses and gone on overseas study trips. As the orchestra took the audience on a musical journey from the pre-Classical to the emerging Romantic, it was also evident that they, too, were on a journey of learning and growing from strength to strength.

Opening the concert was Weber’s Overture to Oberon, where a brave horn solo (of Oberon’s magic horn) dialogued with muted strings before plunging headfirst into the fiery and fast passages. The strings tried to follow American conductor David Commanday’s clear strokes, but they got caught up in the excitement and the pace that they ended up rushing at some parts. The slower, more lyrical middle section was sung beautifully by the first clarinet, and then picked up by the strings. The exuberance and excitement returned towards the end of the piece, but this time well-controlled. This was also reflected in Brahms’ passionate First Symphony after the intermission, where there were some stellar solos especially by the woodwinds, brasses and the concert mistress on her violin.

Stamitz’s First Viola Concerto was one of the earliest works written for viola and one which bridged the gap between the Baroque and the Classical. Accompanying the soloist Max Mendel was a surprisingly large number of strings, and at times I struggled to hear his mellow viola against the orchestral accompaniment. Mendel executed the amazing runs without difficulty, working quite harmoniously with the orchestra. His cadenzas were virtuosic and utilised the entire range of the viola, coloured with double-stops, harmonics, and even intentionally tuning down the last string of his viola for the final note to the amusement of the audience!

With Max Mendel at the intermission
The audience was treated to a quintessentially-American encore, the ‘Orange Blossom Special’, a tune which Commanday described as ‘the fiddler’s national anthem’ in America. It was a partly-programmatic work which attempted to portray a special train which ran from Newark to Florida. A virtuosity of a different kind was required from the violins, having to play in bluegrass-fiddle style. This  catchy tune was complete with train-like sound effects and even a little quote from the prelude of Bach’s solo violin Partita in E! It was lapped up by the encouraging audience who clapped along, who didn’t stop clapping afterward until they played the last section again as a post-encore! 
With many opportunities for performance and learning, it looks set that the music scene in Singapore will continue to flourish in the years to come 🙂 

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