Concert Review: Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra presents Dreams

bhso-dreamsLow Shao Ying & Low Shao Suan: “Dreams” World Premiere
Astor Piazolla: Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
Antonin Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88

Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra
Adrian Tan,
Gabriel Ng violin

23 August 2015
School of the Arts (SOTA) Concert Hall

Review tickets for this performance were generously provided by the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra.

Review by Derek Lim

Frequent concert-goers to the Braddell Heights Symphony will have by now been familiar with what to expect their concerts with Adrian Tan – local composers, introductions to the works by the conductor and enthusiastic musicianship. This concert by the community orchestra had all three.

GabrielNgWe began with Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires as orchestrated and arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov to be a violin concerto. Twenty-year old violinist Gabriel Ng, on my musical radar since his sensational Elgar concerto performance with the Orchestra of the Music-Makers, displayed here an innate but reserved musicianship that was assured but never over-the-top, taking on the technical challenges of the work, while making sense of the Argentinean composer’s brooding lyricism and wit amidst the relentless tango beat of the four seasons, which were played in order, starting with Summer.

The BHSO under Adrian Tan took mostly moderate tempi, the reduced string orchestra providing a suitable backdrop for Ng’s sweet violin tone, though perhaps more pronounced accents would have helped articulate the composer’s angular rhythms. For those used to more extrovert performances by the likes of Gidon Kremer, Ng’s was softer-edged, more like a pliable ballroom dancer than a seasoned tango practitioner, certainly a valid approach, even if the music-making was not as immediate. As an encore, Ng followed with a full-on virtuoso account of the 19th Paganini Caprice.

Up next was the world premiere of the Low sisters’ two-movement work, ‘Dreams’, written on request of Adrian Tan. ‘In the Horizon’ by Shao Ying and ‘Just do It’ by Shao Suan were both about four minutes long. The first was dreamier in nature and featured open woodwind chords in its introduction, followed by a soulful oboe solo which the composer described as symbolizing the first light of dawn and someone thinking about what he wants to do with his life. The second piece had more movement and started off on snare drum before introducing an ascending, climbing theme. Easily digestible and harmonically unadventurous in a good way, the two pieces were reminiscent of film music, though more Studio Ghibli than John Williams. They were well-suited to the BHSO’s technical abilities and made for enjoyable listening.

Rather less well performed was Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony. Not an easy piece by any means, Adrian Tan’s moderate pace kept the momentum going while ensuring that most movements could be carried through. A few moments stood out – Mohamed Rasull’s flute solos were gracefully managed, Victor Wong’s timpani was valiantly played throughout and the second movement wind chorus had considerable beauty. However, much of the symphony was otherwise scrappily played, with ear-rendingly poor intonation especially in the first violins in the first movement and elsewhere, in the shifts into higher positions. This was a pity, since this sullied the many moments of lyrical Bohemian beauty and enthusiastic music-making by these same musicians. The BHSO can be a fine orchestra on a good day, but need to first overcome the technical challenges of the repertoire.

To close, guest concert-master David Loke performed Dvořák’s Romance in F minor, Op. 11, in a moving farewell from the orchestra to the violinist, before he starts at the Manhattan School of Music in a few days. With a silvery, pure tone, his music-making was calm and lyrical; his intonation always true. All the best in New York, David!

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