Young musicians up to challenge

REVIEW / CONCERT

SINGAPORE NATIONAL YOUTH ORCHESTRA - INVITATION TO THE DANCE

Singapore National Youth Orchestra, Leonard Tan (conductor), Thong Wei Ling (violin)

Esplanade Concert Hall

Thursday

The programme for the evening was themed around dance, cycling from Tchaikovksy to Beethoven, and this was an evening of lively, playful music that showcased the energetic talent in the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO), under the baton of Leonard Tan.

Overall, the orchestra's depth of sound has improved discernibly over the past year, but Tan would have done well to pay more attention to wind balance, especially in the piccolo and flute sections that were grossly overblown, as well as intonation in the violins.

The opening work was Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation To The Dance, a short work featuring four waltzes in its main section. Principal cellist Lau Yun Xi's extended solos in the opening and closing parts of the work were excellent.

She played with poise and great tone production, while Tan's comfortable tempo in the celebrated waltz section made the work flow elegantly.

A young soloist, violinist Thong Wei Ling took the stage for the second piece, Tchaikovsky's celebrated Violin Concerto. She is a final-year School of the Arts student and a winner of this year's SNYO Concerto Competition.

Picking this work for a major public concerto debut has its risks and a cracking sound early in her solo passage signalled a slipped tuning peg, rendering the instrument so out of tune that it was unplayable.

In such cases, standard practice would have been for the concertmaster to pass her violin to the soloist. But neither was familiar with the protocol, so the music had to be stopped and restarted from the beginning after re-tuning.

Despite this drama, Thong never lost her composure. She carried the musical lines well, had clear direction in her interpretation and produced excellent tone. But inevitably, the mishap took a slight toll, and intonation and rhythmic accuracy suffered.

Ultimately, the choice of this long and demanding concerto has to be questioned. Performing a Mendelssohn, Beethoven or Bruch concerto would surely have given this talented and promising violinist a better chance to shine.

In the second half, the orchestra gave a spirited rendition of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.

Tan brought out the piece's dance-like rhythms, adventurous harmonies and abrupt changes in dynamics. His gestures could sometimes be exaggerated, but the musicians were fully engaged.

But his choice of tempo was disappointing. Brisk even by professional standards, it was ill-suited for the orchestra. The dotted rhythms became rushed and the distinction between dotted notes and triplets was lacking and the rhythmic waywardness affected the sublime second movement and the syncopated horn solo in the third.

Young musicians love Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 because of the technical challenge. Every instrument from violin to timpani has great, inspired music to play and many of the parts require the highest virtuosity.

To their credit, the orchestra was up to the challenge, with outstanding performances from principal flautist Gail Gay Ling Li and principal timpanist Kevin Tan Han Ming.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'Young musicians up to challenge'. Print Edition | Subscribe