Concert Review: SSO Woodwinds are a Rarely-heard Treat |The Flying Inkpot
A Symphony of Winds
DONIZETTI Sinfonia for Winds
Jin Ta, flute, Pan Yun, Elaine Yeo, oboes, Li Xin, Tang Xiao Ping, clarinets, Liu Chang, Christoph Wichert, bassoons, Marc Robillard, Gao Jian, horns
GOUNOD Petite symphonie
Jin Ta, flute, Pan Yun, Elaine Yeo, oboes, Li Xin, Tang Xiao Ping, clarinets, Liu Chang,Zhao Ying Xue, bassoons, Marc Robillard, Gao Jian, horns
MOZART Serenade for Winds in C minor, K.388
Rachel Walker, Carolyn Hollier, oboes, Ma Yue, Tang Xiao Ping, clarinets, Christoph Wichert, Zhao Ying Xue, bassoons, Jamie Hersch, Hoang Van Hoc, horns.
Wind Ensemble of the SSO
Victoria Concert Hall
Thursday, 23 Sep 2021.
Review by Derek Lim
A tiny upside of this never-ending pandemic is that it’s allowed us to hear our fine SSO musicians out of the confines of their usual symphonic repertory, in small groups such as what we heard tonight, even as we’ve been deprived of their voices otherwise. This evening’s line-up featured two fine groups of wind musicians in two configurations – both with two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and two horns – with the first two pieces also featuring the flute.
The first three pieces lived up to the SSO’s ‘easy-listening’ billing. The Donizetti Sinfonia and Gounod, in particular, were perfectly relaxed pieces – nothing too serious and executed with finesse and lots of style. There was plenty to enjoy in the somewhat dark, burnished tones of the ensemble, with sweet oboes and chattering bassoons engaging in congenial conversation with each other. The musicians found just the right mix of gorgeous Gallic elegance and comfort in Gounod’s Petite symphonie. The sigh-worthy Andante cantabile in particular struck an emotional chord with the audience, who responded with a round of spontaneous applause. In this movement, Jin Ta’s shimmering, liquid flute sang expressively with his colleagues adding much warmth. After the characterfully played Scherzo, rapid, contrasting passages between the higher and lower instruments ensued in the Finale, giving way to mischievous hijinks in the coda.
If the ensemble in the Donizetti and Gounod emphasized blend and warmth over individual voices, the ensemble in the Hummel and Mozart reveled in the more athletic possibilities in their featured works, performing with a more individual profile within a generally more outdoor, brighter sound.
There were lovely touches in the Hummel – it was especially a joy to hear SSO oboe principal Rachel Walker’s piquant, characterful sound, as well as Ma Yue’s assertive clarinet, though ensemble sound was, as a whole, gorgeous.
For listeners more familiar with the String Quintet version of the Serenade (the wind version came first and Mozart transcribed it later), it was fascinating to hear the differences in texture and character caused by the change in instrumentation. The opening C minor sequence sounded far more solemn and ceremonial than in the string version, for example, though in terms of attack and agility, the edges were smoothed out by the larger number of players in the wind ensemble. In any case, it was a sensitively played, musically alive performance of this wonderful work, with some lovely, lovely interplay and beautiful colours and strong rhythms in the second movement Andante – the horns were particularly great here. The bassoons, so often supporting the musical proceedings, had their moment in the sun (or would that be the moonlight) in the Theme and Variation finale, sounding magnificent in their athletic variations. Walker’s oboe cadenza, dramatically taken, struck just the right note before plunging the music into its C major, life-affirming end.