SSO returns to chamber music roots


TRANSFIGURED NIGHT/Singapore Symphony Orchestra


Moving back to Victoria Concert Hall to perform a pair of concerts, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra could be said to have returned to its chamber music roots.

It was in 1979 when the fledgling outfit comprising 41 musicians took on the works of Beethoven and Schubert in its inaugural concerts. This evening, the concert's first half, conducted by its music director Shui Lan, featured a work for a wind ensemble and another for just strings.

Richard Strauss' youthful Serenade Op. 7 was scored for 13 instruments. Yet the sound generated by these few musicians was voluminous, filling the hall with an ardent bluster. Thank goodness the playing was immaculate and crisp for this short singlemovement piece.

It appears that the hall favours strings, which have a mellower and soothing timbre. Thus, in Arnold Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night), where the original sextet were expanded to a large body of strings including double basses, the overall effect was closer to perfection.

The music is programmatic, narrating the intense feelings of a man and woman who share a dark private secret in the deep of night. The build-up from quiet calm to racking emotional turmoil was gradual and, even if the opening lacked a degree of mystery, the climaxes were vivid. The larger group of strings was also balanced with the small quartet of violinists Igor Yuzefovich and Zhou Qi, violist Zhang Manchin and cellist Ng Pei-Sian.

Shui's firm guiding hand ensured that the catharsis was for real, and the transformation from agony to acceptance provided the music's defining moments. What was that dark secret anyway? The child the woman was bearing was from another man's seed. True love thus reigned in that transfigured night.

Despite its pretensions to virtuosity, Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto In A Minor is chamber music writ large. Russian pianist Nikolai Demidenko, well known for his Rachmaninov and Prokofiev concerto performances, gave an intimate and anti-histrionic reading.

His sensitive playing blended with the orchestra like a snug hand in glove. This was nowhere more apparent than in the slender second movement's Intermezzo, where the repartee between pianist and ensemble was deliciously kept up until the finale's energetic romp. Here, Demidenko's vaunted technique more than held up to scrutiny, with the tricky syncopations and fast slightly off-kilter waltz dancing to a brilliant conclusion.

His two encores were equally delightful, with rare concert appearances of waltzes from Chopin's Op. 64 set, including the Minute Waltz, which sounds like a little dog chasing its tail.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'SSO returns to chamber music roots'. Print Edition | Subscribe