Joy ride of epic proportions

REVIEW / CONCERT

PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION

Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Shui Lan (conductor), Sayaka Shoji (violin)

Esplanade Concert Hall

Thursday

In this concert, part of Shui Lan's 20th season with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), the principal conductor programmed two of his favourite works - Richard Strauss' Tod Und Verklarung (Death And Transfiguration) and Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition.

Strauss' Death And Transfiguration, a tone poem that depicts an artist's death, his recollection of his life and his transformation from human to ethereal form, is the type of music Shui thrives on.

He is perfectly at home with the genre and directed a tight and highly charged reading of the music.

Likewise, the SSO always seems at home when playing Strauss and the night was no exception, aided by characterful solos from concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich.

Shui savours slow sections, but seldom holds back in fast ones. It was a strong performance of a demanding opening work.

The orchestral version of Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition is a huge draw for concert audiences and trumpet principal Jon Dante played a stirring, rock- steady solo.

Shui and the SSO know the work intimately and this came through clearly. His martial reading brought drama and emotion to the music.

This performance was not an amble along a gallery but a joy ride of epic proportions.

Solos abound throughout the work and the winds especially had opportunities to show off.

Among the other creditable solos, Tang Xiao Ping's saxophone in The Old Castle, with its suave vibrato and Parisian phrasing best captured the magic that Ravel's orchestration added to Mussorgsky's original piano score, while Dante's brilliant trumpet-playing continued right up to the closing bars.

Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji topped off the evening's programme with an exceptional performance of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto.

The first Japanese and youngest- ever winner of the Paganini Competition in 1999 has ample technical ability, but it was her beautifully crafted playing that truly impressed.

Shoji treated her listeners to amazing permutations of articulation, tone colour, dynamics and phrasing, while keeping everything coherent and un-forced.

If anything, her range created a challenge for Shui and the SSO, who had to keep up with all the ideas she brought to the concerto.

This evening's programme could have been just a rehash of the two pieces which Shui directed on his debut as guest conductor with the SSO in 1993, as well as yet another outing for the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto that lacks real distinction.

But thanks to solid performances from Shui and the SSO, and a convincing concerto by Shoji, the audience was treated to a refreshing celebration of familiar orchestral favourites.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Joy ride of epic proportions'. Print Edition | Subscribe