CONCERT REVIEW: Audioimage Wind Ensemble presents Vivid Colours

Concert Review: AudioImage Wind Ensemble presents Vivid Colors.

Mendelssohn: Overture for Winds, Op. 24.
Ravel : Pavane pour une infante defunte.
Toshio Mashima : La danse du phenix
Bert Appermont : Colors for trombone.
Dvorak Symphony No. 9 ‘From the New World’

Conductor: Clarence Tan

4 Sep 2010, 5pm.
Lee Foundation Theatre

Concert-goers concerned about the health of Singapore’s amateur music scene need only look to its flourishing choral music, Chinese orchestra and band scene to be proven wrong. Case in point: Audioimage Wind Ensemble. The community centre-based group started off with 25 members, hence its modest name, however the Siglap-based setup is a full band in all but in name, with about 60 members performing in this concert.

Their annual concert, entitled Vivid Colors (missing the ‘o’, perhaps in keeping with the American spelling of one of their featured pieces) was extremely ambitious, perhaps a little too much so, but one might argue that it’s only in tackling works which are beyond one’s reach that one improves.

Tackling two well-known pieces from the symphonic orchestra repertoire – Ravel’s Pavane pour une enfante défunte and Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony, the band distinguished themselves in freshness of interpretation and enthusiasm, while falling short in tonal lushness and ensemble that more established groups might have accomplished.

Listening to the Dvořák in the arrangement by Mark Hindsley was sometimes distracting, as you can imagine with such a well-known piece – often the result when one expects to hear string instrument, for example, and instead hears a wind instrument taking its part.

I liked the honesty in conductor Clarence Tan’s interpretation and appreciated newly the technical difficulties that the work may have held for its early interpreters. Quite apart from the inherent difficulties in the work, the difficulties in playing a transcribed violin part, for example, for a wind instrument like the oboe or clarinet are enormous, especially when you remember that in the orchestra the winds are usually meant to provide colour and therefore are given more rest in between their passages – many wind instrumentalists aren’t used to this kind of endurance. Tan’s direction was generally clear and unflowery in its beat, but I felt the orchestra would sometimes have benefitted from more cues.

Getting through large works like the Dvořák in one piece is an achievement, but there were a couple of ways which I thought the band could have achieved a tighter ensemble.  First of all, there was a large variance in tone colour – for example, just compare the two oboist’s timbre – one reedy and wiry, the other nuttier – that would ideally be better matched. In terms of just hitting the notes, the brisk tempi which the conductor took, though appropriate, didn’t help, with fist-fuls of notes left out entirely, despite valiant efforts.

That didn’t mean that there weren’t more than a few moving moments – the full might of Dvořák’s brass writing really came across in the Allegro con fuoco, and there some top-notch solo performances from the cor anglais as well as lead flautist that I really enjoyed.

The rest of the performances fared well too. Toshio Mashima’s distinctly impressionist and very interesting ‘La danse du Phenix’, reminiscent of Debussy’s La Mer in the end, was well-coloured even if its sometimes dense textures remained unclarified. Ravel’s Pavane pour une enfante défunte, while atmospheric, suffered from the problematic solo at the start.

Bert Appermont’s ‘Colors for trombone’, a piece new to me and somehow redolent of an American film-score with its evocation of large open spaces, showed the wind orchestra to its best advantage in its opening, with trombonist Ronnie Quek lacking a little confidence at the start but quickly became more surefooted and played the solo part for all it was worth, while remaining unshowy. For my money, the piece’s length was out of proportion to its musical material, and was more colourful than developmentally interesting.

In all, an interesting concert, with lots of promise from everyone concerned. Their next concert, featuring music from anime soundtracks, should be one to look forward to!

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