CD Review: Elgar Violin Concerto, Orchestra of the Music Makers, Gabriel Ng, Chan Tze Law

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Elgar Violin Concerto

Gabriel Ng, violin
Orchestra of the Music Makers
Chan Tze Law, conductor

Available on OMMLive! $12.97 (CD), $9.99 (MP3)
http://www.orchestra.sg/video–audio.html

Review by Derek Lim

You hear of ‘promising young talents’ all the time, but this recording of Gabriel Ng, all of sixteen when he recorded this with the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) under their music director, Chan Tze Law, brings that to reality. The short playing time of this CD (just over 48 minutes) seems ungenerous, but the quality of the musicianship here is not to be underestimated, and I’d say this enthralling performance is well worth its asking price.

The OMM play well for their young soloist, then a musician at the Yehudi Menuhin School, and Chan balances reserve with propulsion well. Ng’s first movement goosebump-inducing entrance characterizes his playing – not at all lacking gravitas, and he’s not as extrovert as some have been in this music, but his playing inhabits the music completely. He’s technically spot-on; no apologies need be made for intonation even in the many double stops, and not unlike Menuhin, he has an ‘interesting’ tone that has backbone but also, shall we say, a certain fragility.

GabrielNgIt’s a tone that suits the concerto well, but it would be nothing if he didn’t understand the music. No point comparing Gabriel Ng to the young Menuhin; that was a different era entirely, but the level of musical maturity displayed here is astonishing; there isn’t a phrase where he doesn’t seem to know exactly what he wants out of the music, yet nothing seems forced, everything instinctive.

The first movement passes in a blink in his hands. He makes the second movement Andante really move along, 11’10” versus Nigel Kennedy’s thirteen plus minutes, yet without sacrificing warmth and communication.

The third movement is the true test in this concerto, though, and Ng plays like his life depended on it in sections of this movement, tackling the fiendishly difficult parts head-on with scintillating virtuosity, while bringing out that nostalgic heartache in the thrummed cadenza like a seasoned pro. I only wish Chan had brought the orchestra through the coda of the finale with more weight, more finality – it seemed rather light here. It is only when the audience’s inexplicably tepid applause comes in that you realize it was a live performance, which makes this achievement all the more remarkable.

This is the real thing, ladies and gentleman. Get this CD, you won’t come across a more promising debut recording for a while, I promise – not from a Singaporean, not from anyone. May Gabriel Ng continue to grow and his musicianship blossom – I certainly want to hear a lot more of him!

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