Two tales of Romeo And Juliet

REVIEW / CONCERT

NANYANG ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS ORCHESTRA

Lee Foundation Theatre/Thursday

This concert by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Orchestra, which brought together Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet and the Chinese version of it, was a good example of concert programming bridging the East and the West.

Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, better known as the Butterfly Lovers, is a well-loved and enduring Chinese tale. The concerto jointly composed by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao in 1959 was originally scored for violin and Western symphony orchestra, but the Chinese have rightfully laid claim to their heritage by scoring it for huqin solo and Chinese instruments.

This evening's version was a composite featuring the gaohu and Western instruments. Soloist Sunny Wong, head of Chinese instrumental studies at Nafa, has a claim to fame. His father, Wong On Yuen, was the pioneer in playing the concerto on the gaohu during the 1970s. This "ownership" was immediately apparent in the way his instrument sang through the concerto.

The gaohu approximates the high human operatic voice in a way the violin cannot. The tonal inflexions, slurs and slides of Beijing opera are often elusive to non-native musicians, but here, Wong made it sound totally natural.

Instead of the flute, the use of the dizi, played by Sun Rui, also added an element of authenticity. Wong's duet with cellist Li Jingli, as the lovestruck couple met, provided tender moments.

The orchestra, whose part is unabashedly sentimental, backed this enterprise to the hilt and there were plenty of cheers from the full-house audience after its conclusion.

Soon, the ensemble had to switch gears for 13 movements from Prokofiev's popular ballet Romeo And Juliet. These were extracted from three orchestral suites which the Russian composer had devised and performed in the order of appearance in the ballet. Thus the narrative of the story was not jumbled or lost.

The emotional roller-coaster provided by the sequence of scenarios and dances was well handled by the young orchestra, augmented by faculty members and guest players from Taiwan's National Dong Hwa University.

Strings were disciplined. Brass and woodwind were somewhat exposed in the Minuet, but made up with fine showings elsewhere.

The highly dramatic and violent Death Of Tybalt, contrasted with the rapturous Romeo And Juliet Before Parting, became the score's emotional high points.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'Two tales of Romeo And Juliet'. Print Edition | Subscribe