Concert Review: Concerti I Solisti VI – Orchestra of the Music Makers, Ray Chan

Concerti I Solisti VI

Max Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor (Finale)
Ralph Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel: The Vagabond, Let Beauty Awake, The Roadside Fire
Ludwig Van Beethoven Symphony No. 7
George Gershwin Summertime
Mack Gordon & Henry Warren At Last
Pytor Iliyich Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (First Movement)

Orchestra of the Music Makers
Ray Chan conductor
Wu Shuang violin (Bruch)
Ngoo Tien Hong Ted voice (Vaughan Williams)
Siti Syakirah Noble voice (Gershwin & Gordon)
Ronan Lim Ziming violin (Tchaikovsky)

25 Mar 2017
SOTA Concert Hall

by Derek Lim and Aileen Tang

Photo: from L to R – Ronan Lim, Ted Ngoo, Siti Syakirah Noble, Wu Shuang

Concerti I Solisti, the School of the Arts’ (SOTA) annual collaboration with the Orchestra of the Music Makers showcasing talented soloists from SOTA, returned for its sixth year this last Saturday.

Inkpotters Derek Lim and Aileen Tang checked out this year’s pickings at the SOTA Concert Hall.

AT: Hey Derek, how was it?

DL: I liked it! The orchestra was in fine shape in the last movement of the Bruch concerto, wasn’t it?

AT: Oh yes! There was some nice attention to details without being too rigid and I felt they supported the soloist, Wu Shuang, in a way that was not overwhelming.

DL: I found the beginning a bit tentative, but conductor Ray Chan made them sound lush and full in the orchestral climaxes. The overall tempo was soooo slooooow, though, thought she was playing under the tempo throughout, a bit too relaxed. I was hoping for a bit more excitement, really – a little more ‘Allegro energico’, you know?

Actually, I thought that slightly pulled-back tempo allowed her to phrase some of those lines with sensitivity. And the build up to the climax of the movement was rather effective. Some blips here and there, but overall I felt she exuded confidence in her playing.

DL: I did like her sound – small but refined, still managed to penetrate through the orchestra. The baritone, Ted Ngoo, on the other hand… His basic tone was attractive enough, but his voice was really too small to handle a full orchestra.

AT: Perhaps it would have been better to pick songs which did not call for such full orchestral accompaniment, in order to display his strengths rather than highlight his shortcomings.

: Yes, for example in ‘The Vagabond’, perhaps I’ve been spoilt by Bryn Terfel, but I really was looking for something more authoritative, more commanding, with more swagger. And in ‘Let Beauty Awake’, which Ray Chan (above) accompanied so sensitively, and with so much colour, I would have preferred if Ted underlined certain words like ‘kiss’ – textural sensitivity wasn’t great here.

AT: That’s a problem though, isn’t it, with young musicians? Selection of music. Often we find them picking a piece which is too ambitious instead of choosing something less demanding but more appropriate for their level of technique and maturity.

DL: There was one work where the soloists took a backseat to the orchestra…

AT: Ah yes, every year, OMM does a piece of their own. Last year it was ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ and this time it was Beethoven’s 7th. Quite a coincidence that the same symphony will be performed no less than three times within 4 months in Singapore. An invitation for comparison, huh? Well, so what did you think of OMM’s Beethoven 7?

DL: Well… honestly, this was the one piece for which I had issues with the conductor. I understand that HIP (historically informed performance) is quite mainstream now, but does it really have to be so… flashy or frenetic? The first movement Poco sostenuto could hardly be described as sustained, and I missed that sense of exploration and adventure in music-making that you find with other conductors. When the second theme came in there wasn’t any contrast Did you like that famous second movement Allegretto?

AT: I did, actually. I appreciated how clear each of the lines were and I particularly liked the fugue with its precision and balance, while not compromising in gracefulness. This was one section that I thought demonstrated how effectively the conductor and orchestra worked together.

DL: I thought the second movement worked pretty well too, but some parts were quite hard driven, especially with the tender wind solos meant to provide some relief from the relentless repeated note first theme of the second movement.

AT: What did you think of the last movement? Was it exhilarating enough for you?

DL: Much too exhilarating! I must say the orchestra managed well with Chan’s dangerously fast tempo, which he established right from the first notes. But there were parts where I thought musical fabric was being torn at its seams – the first violins were often just speeding ahead uncontrollably in the tuttis leading up to the part where the main rondo theme comes in. And the tension was wound up a little too early – part of the excitement of the build-up comes from Beethoven’s repetition of the rondo theme and his careful cascade of notes up and down the octave, and how the conductor varies it each time. And Chan didn’t, so it became rather flat, though at the same time quite breathless.

AT: Speaking of excitement, Siti Syakirah Noble was quite the powerhouse! The strength of her vocals in both “Summertime” and “At Last”, both arranged by Lee Jinjun by commission, cannot be denied and she obviously had the jazz vibe down. Lee’s arrangement was an ideal backdrop for the songs, not veering too far from the original so as to distract the listener from the voice, yet with some subtle experiments in instrumental colours. If I were to be picky, I would say that Syakirah’s rendition lacked emotional nuances which made me question if she really understood the context of the lyrics. I would also have liked to hear a more introspective interpretation for parts of “At Last”. Similar problem as Ted actually – both needed more sensitive attention to the lyrics of their respective songs.

DL: I thought she has really good instrument, though her performance in bits of ‘At Last’ was quite over-the-top. She had lots of charisma in her singing. Ronan Lim’s first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was a bit of a wild-card in this evening for me – he had really interesting touches, but I’m not sure they were really worked into the larger performance. His opening phrases reminded me a little of how Mischa Elman would play, mesmerized by the sound of his own violin. And he had a really commanding violin sound, a lovely instrument, don’t you think?

AT: Oh yes, beautiful tone!

DL: For me, what was most curious was how much he varied from the conducting. There were parts where the conductor would whip up the orchestra into a frenzy in an ever faster tempo, but Ronan stuck to his own tempo when he came in, as if to say, ‘Thank you very much, but I’ll just be playing this my way’. Idiosyncratic but not boring. And he has the technique – his double and triple stops were quite well-executed.

AT: For me, though, it was an example of a young musician being too ambitious in his choice of piece. While creating some really lovely moments, he didn’t have the stamina to carry it through.

DL: I have to agree about the stamina – he seemed to have lost a bit of concentration toward the end. And why did he take the coda slow and first and then speed up?

AT: Well, all in all, I was very impressed with the concert, considering that the soloists are all just current students from SOTA. And OMM, as usual, was musically supportive without being intrusive – allowing the young soloists to take centrestage, literally and metaphorically.

DL: See you again next year, then?

AT: I’m sure we’ll meet before then!

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