Young violinist's sizzling show of prowess

If a symphony precedes a concerto in an orchestral concert, there usually has to be some valid reason. In this latest concert by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Orchestra, conducted by Lim Yau, that reason was not fully apparent until near the very end.

The concert opened with Robert Schumann's Second Symphony In C Major (Op. 61), the longest and arguably grandest of his four symphonies.

Without an overture as curtain- raiser, the nerves displayed within its very exposed first bars were palpable, with trumpets not fully in sync in the slow introduction. This soon settled as the swifter Allegro section got underway.

The strength of this young orchestra lies in the strings, which were fully on show in the mercurial Scherzo and Adagio slow movement. The former was taken at a very fast clip, clearly articulated and with no little vehemence, which led to premature applause at its conclusion. The latter was a show of prestidigitation that hinged on a momentum that was hard to repress.

From the throes of its pages, oboist Bima Wikan Tyoso's solo stood out for its confidence and steadiness. The finale was brought out with Beethovenian vigour, one which tossed and turned, tempered by Schumann's quote from Bee- thoven's song cycle An Die Ferne Geliebte (To The Distant Beloved), revealing it to be a love message after all at its triumphant end.

  • REVIEW / CONCERT

  • NAFA ORCHESTRA

    Lee Foundation Theatre/Thursday

Despite its rough edges, this performance captured the Romantic spirit of the music. Altogether very different was the concerto that followed, Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto In A Minor (Op. 99), which proved a far thornier challenge for orchestra and soloist.

Making a concerto debut with the orchestra was young violinist Guo Xingchen, winner of the Nafa Music Essentials Concerto Competition, which seemed like an act of madness itself. There was some suspicious intonation at the outset, but her dark, dusky tone seemed appropriate for its doleful and mysterious Nocturne.

The slashing Scherzo that followed was not so much a partnership as a pitched battle among violin, woodwind and ominously mounting orchestral forces. The ensemble almost came to grief at one point, but cool heads prevailed to steady the ship through to its frazzled and frenzied end. The third movement's Passacaglia was an impassioned cry, a crescendo that built up inexorably to the massive cadenza, where Guo truly came into her own.

Any reservations about her temperament or technique evaporated in this show of individual prowess that continued into the finale's wild Burlesque. Here, the Russian composer's penchant with Jewish Klezmer music went into overdrive in this sizzling and unbuttoned dance, aided by a fully responsive wind section.

As if swept by a tsunami of adrenaline, the concerto concluded excitingly and excitably, with prolonged applause and a chorus of loud cheers. One wonders what could have possibly followed that adventure of a performance. Certainly not a symphony.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Young violinist's sizzling show of prowess'. Print Edition | Subscribe