Concert Review: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants – re:Sound – 5 July 2019

Vivaldi: Sinfonia to La Senna Festeggiante RV117
Haydn: Symphony no.104 in D major (“London”) – 1. Adagio – Allegro and 2. Andante
Prokofiev: Symphony no.1 in D major (“Classical”) – 1. Allegro and 2. Larghetto
Haydn:Symphony no.104 in D major (“London”) – 3. Menuetto and Trio: Allegro
Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra
Prokofiev: Symphony no.1 in D major (“Classical”) – 3. Gavotte: Non troppo allegro and 4. Finale: Molto vivace
Haydn:Symphony no.104 in D major (“London”) – 4. Finale: Spiritoso

re:Sound Collective
Pavlo Beznosiuk, leader
Qin Li-Wei, cello
Friday, 5 July 2019
Victoria Concert Hall

Pavlo Peznosiuk, leader

Review by Aileen Tang

Since 2016, re:Sound Collective has established itself firmly as Singapore’s premier professional chamber orchestra. Tonight’s concert programme, played as always without conductor, spanned musical epochs in exploring the inspiration of musical giants. Nothing new about that, you may think, but what was particularly innovative – and highly challenging – was the order in which the rather familiar repertoire was presented, click here to see more about the orchestra. 

The concert started normally enough, with a charming performance of Vivaldi’s Sinfonia to his opera La senna festeggiante (“Festival on the Seine”). Despite not being performed authentically on Baroque instruments, the orchestra’s silken sound was spun like fine filigree, with not a sharp edge in sight. The hall seemed made for them, such was the elegant resonance.

The rest of the evening was, well, a little more confusing, and stretched the audience’s collective concentration. The controversial approach was announced only at the start of the concert. Instead of being played as works on their own, individual movements of the Haydn would be juxtaposed against the Prokofiev – an interesting premise that was however stretched further by the interruption by Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations – before finally finishing off both symphonies.

The last of Haydn’s “London” Symphonies, his Op. 104 begins arrestingly – as if to command the audience’s attention – and while this orchestra lacked that full gravitas, its entries were stately enough. The main Allegro theme beguiled in its introduction, but started picking up speed all too soon after, resulting in a rather muddy, rushing river. Several attempts were made to rein it in, but these were not sustained, and it was only in the theme’s last two entries that control was regained. In contrast, the orchestra was in no hurry with the symphony’s second movement, taking their time in a measured performance that still had room for a playful lilt.

The first half of the Haydn symphony was followed by the first half of the Prokofiev. The symphony is challenging enough with a conductor. Would re:Sound pull it off without one? The answer was yes, and they did so admirably. While there were anxious moments when the woodwinds and violins which threatened to start careening in the first movement, it was largely – and impressively – kept together. It was a glorious, rousing start to the symphony and the musicians looked very pleased with themselves. The Larghetto was a little jagged at the start, as though the adrenaline from the 1st had not completely dissipated, and Beznosuik had to conduct more explicitly from his chair for this movement.

Cellist Qin Li-Wei

We returned to one more movement of Haydn: the Menuet was presented with pomp, followed by a swirling Trio, though the return of the Menuet was unexpectedly rushed, making for a less satisfying end to the concert’s first half.

Cellist Qin Li-Wei was, without a doubt, the real star of the evening. He has played the Rococo Variations multiple times in his career and tonight’s performance – tucked between symphonic movements – oozed charismatic confidence, yet never spilling over into excess emotiveness. An inviting narrative was spun across the variations, showing off the cello’s different personalities – from the mischievous youth to the pensive lover and passionate artist. The orchestra provided a supportive backdrop to the cello’s solo lines, but when on its own, sounded brash to the point of obtrusion.

His encore was The Swan from Saint-Saёns’ The Carnival of the Animals (next on re:Sound’s October programme). Luscious and beautiful with sensitive orchestral accompaniment, the concert could have ended there – with the audience hypnotized by Qin’s artistry.

Instead we continued with the Gavotte and Finale from the Prokofiev, which burst forth as though it couldn’t contain its exuberance any longer. Infectious in its jaunty energy, it was a fitting last chapter to an effervescent performance of the symphony. Haydn’s Finale: Spiritoso, struggled to capture that same high-spirited zest. Somewhat ponderous, it didn’t quite manage to soar, leaving the conclusion more stoically grounded than joyously elevated.

Despite my initial apprehension, the concert with its weaving repertory was not schizophrenic. There were perhaps minor episodes of identity crises, but far from the chaos that could have ensued if in the hands of a lesser orchestra.

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