INKPOT CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: Singapore Symphony Orchestra – 5th December 1996
SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Thursday, 5th December, 1996
Victoria Concert Hall
KATE FLOWERS soprano
ANGELA COFER alto
GERAINT ROBERTS tenor
PETER SAVIDGE baritone
SINGAPORE SYMPHONY CHORUS
LIM YAU conductor
ARNOLD SCHOENBERG A Survivor from Warsaw (1947)
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D minor “Choral”, Op. 125 (1817-23)
This review has been kindly sponsored by Singapore Symphonia Company.
by Isaak Koh
Beethoven’s Ninth is an experience that cannot be replicated in recordings. Oft-played in the concert hall, there is always a small fear that the orchestra and conductor will simply be going through the motions, producing a lacklustre performance. Such apprehension on the part of the reviewer was clearly unfounded given the exhiliarating concert on Thursday night.
Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw was given its premiere performance in Singapore in this concert, and it acted as a prelude to the symphony. Written in 1947, it is a recited cantata describing the confused emotions of a Jew in the Polish capital under the Nazi regime. It was a dramatic rendition, the spoken parts handled sensitively by baritone Peter Savidge. It was topped off by an impressive choral section of an ancient Hebrew song, expressing the defiance of the Polish Jews in the face of oppression. This segues appropriately into the Ninth, which also celebrates the brotherhood and dignity of Man.
There was some slackness in the playing the first two movements of the “Choral”, but the effect was not distracting, given the difficulty in maintaining the intensity of the work. There was some untidiness during the second movement, showing up as awkward changes of tempo. The slow third movement was nicely done, with conductor Lim Yau handling the serene passages masterfully and sustaining the intense pianissimos. The timpani sounded splashy and this reduced the impact of the accents somewhat. This was the only quibble in the generally taut performance and it is most probably due to the choice of the instrument used rather than any playing inadequacies.
The baritone Peter Savidge was in top form. Having performed admirably in the Schoenberg, he boomed out again in his full-bodied voice,articulating each syllable with dignity and confidence, It is a delight to hear such rich vocal projection. His opening “O Freunde, nicht diese Tone!” (O Friends, no more these sounds!) was striking and attention-grabbing, sounding as if he was indeed declaring a message of hope to the world for the first time. The soprano and the alto blended well, but the team of soloists were unfortunately let down by the tenor. In direct contrast with the baritone, Geraint Roberts (in his first performance here) sounded rather weak and seemed to lack conviction, especially in his solo passage during the Turkish march.
Kudos must be given to the members of the Singapore Symphony Chorus for their wonderful performance. The sight and sound of the Chorus singing their hearts out was highly moving, the combined impact of the orchestra and the chorus was overwhelming, as befitting the climatic nature of the final movement. Lim Yau extracted some marvellous playing from the orchestra, especially in the glorious descending passage near the end. A roof-raising finale to the symphony sent many listeners home emotionally satisfied, judging by the number of glowing faces as the crowd streamed out.
Isaak Koh is listening to Brahms’s Second Symphony, trying to catch up for the Brahms centenary. 1997 is also Schubert’s 200th birthday.
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