Shining showmanship by Chinese soloists

REVIEW / CONCERT

VIRTUOSOS OF CHINESE MUSIC

Ding Yi Music Company

Esplanade Concert Hall

Last Sunday

Every year in its first concert of the season, Ding Yi Music Company invites soloists luminaries from the world of Chinese instrumental music. These names may not be familiar to the casual listener or outsider, but erhu virtuoso Xue Ke, guzheng exponent Zhou Wang and dizi master Zhang Wei Liang are household names for serious Chinese instrumentalists.

In this 140-minute-long concert, the trio from China performed a selection of chamber and concertante works with members of Singapore's premier Chinese chamber ensemble. Xue's fiery crimson gown matched the intensity of Liu Wen Jin's Fire - The Maiden In A Colourful Dress for two erhus, a moto perpetuo in duet with Ding Yi's Chin Yen Choong. There was no let-up in its frenetic pace, but Chin ably kept up with Xue by doubling the melody, harmonising in close intervals and providing rhythmic support.

Xue's appearance in Guan Ming's Ballad Of Lan Hua Hua, a rhapsodic single-movement concerto, gave voice to the extreme expressions of an erhu. From anguished plaints to the courageous sacrifice of the eponymous heroine (who resisted and fled a loveless marriage to a rich old codger), the emotive playing elicited premature applause from an excitable audience in a short pause leading to its cadenza.

Zhou was joined by Yin Qun and Yvonne Tay in Zhou Yan Jia's Love Of Qing Bei, arranged for three guzhengs. Playing from memory, nary a note or beat was dropped in this showpiece that gradually accelerated to a brilliant conclusion with sweeping glissandi.

Zhou's concertante pieces included the traditional Song Of Desolation from Shaanxi, a poetic portrayal of profound sadness, markedly contrasted with Huang Zhen Yu and Zhou Wang's Western Theme Capriccio, a vigorous dance that used Central Asian themes and motifs from Jiangxi, China's far west. Her command of the strummed and plucked instrument was absolute, vividly supported by the ensemble conducted by Quek Ling Kiong.

Zhang played on a combination of dizis and xiao. The latter is a vertically blown flute with a lower register and its mellow timbre was well-suited for the serene melody of Song dynasty classic Plum Blossoms In The Snow, accompanied by erhu, pipa, ruan, guzheng and percussion in Zhang's arrangement.

The dizi's rusticity was ideal in the Hebei operatic number Little Shepherd, which had mellifluous exchanges between a shepherd and his love interest.

In Zhang's own Tears For Fallen Flowers, composed in memory of his beloved late father, a Suzhou pingtan melody straddled between lighthearted reminiscences and poignancy.

All three soloists gave short interviews, which included encouraging budding players in the audience to discover and embrace their artistic souls. They were united for the final work, Gu Guan Ren's arrangement of the popular Flavours Of Jiangnan, which culminated with virtuosic flourishes for each part. Closing on a spirited high, this concert ushers yet another ambitious season ahead for the intrepid and industrious Ding Yi Music Company.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2016, with the headline 'Shining showmanship by Chinese soloists'. Print Edition | Subscribe