July 20, 2014

Concerti I Solisti III – A Review

An edited version of this was published in The Straits Times with the heading ‘Budding talents shine with orchestra’ on 21 July 2014. 

Concerti I Solisti III
OMM/ Seow Yibin, conductor, Rebecca Lee, clarinet, Joshua Evan Lee, Lin Xiangning, piano
SOTA Concert Hall
19 July 2014 Saturday
With the increasing number of musicians in Singapore, it is heartening to see that they are given chances to perform solo, backed by an orchestra. Nine different solo works were presented across three concerts in the past week, two of which take the form of a piano concerto festival.
However, unlike the soloists of the piano concerto festival, the three who performed with the Orchestra of the Music Makers under the baton of Seow Yibin were chosen by merit: they were the winners an internal concerto competition held by the School Of The Arts (SOTA) earlier this year.
Opening the concert was Weber’s single-movement Concertino for Clarinet, op. 26 performed by Rebecca Lee. Although visibly nervous at first, Lee handled the the long-limbed melodic lines beautifully with a fine lyrical tone. The quicker sections she also tackled with aplomb, sometimes racing ahead and leaving the orchestra struggling to keep up.
Due to the shorter lengths of the solo works presented, the orchestra, too, was given a chance
in the spotlight with Shostakovich’s enigmatic Ninth Symphony. Composed just after the Second World War and initially intended as a long, large-scale work for chorus and orchestra, Shostakovich eventually wrote it as a short and compact symphony in the neo-classical style, combining classical elements with his whimsical and quirky harmonies.
Seow opted to conduct from memory, and this proved to be an advantage as the orchestra sounded tighter and more focused. Woodwinds were the strongest sections here, with the jaunty woodwind solos which peppered the first movement, the soulful clarinet solos that open the second movement. The brasses also showed solidarity as a section with a strong tone and perfect intonation as they duelled a slightly out-of-tune bassoon towards the end of the third movement. Also particularly notable was the brilliance of the flute and the trumpet in their solos.
From the iconic clarinet opening trill and glissando to the muted trumpet solos, it was as though the orchestra had morphed into a jazz orchestra during the intermission for Joshua Evan Lee’s rendition of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The Rhapsody was a bluesy, laid-back affair, the performance every bit as suave as the young soloist who sauntered on stage in skinny black jeans and a matching blue-black coat and tie.
Lee took his time with the solos, deliberately but tastefully stretching his phrases with elastic freedom; and Seow was only too happy to indulge him. Here, the strings regained their confidence to produce a full, luscious sound for the slow theme in the second half. Due to the acoustics of the concert hall, it was a pity that the piano was often drowned out when the whole orchestra played loud passages together with it.
The more transparent orchestration in the first movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto allowed Lin Xiangning to fare a little better. Ably accompanied by the orchestra, Lin varied her touch and tone to switch effortlessly between the dramatic and the poetic themes, and played the running passages with precision and clarity. Bringing the concert to a feisty close, it was only during the cadenza that Lin unleashed her prowess, building up to the climax and suddenly sounding much more powerful than before.
It certainly remains to be seen in a few years how these budding young talents will progress, if given the right mentorship.

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