The inclusion of 19-year-old Juilliard School junior year composition student Koh Cheng Jin's Horizons For Orchestra in such a high-profile Singapore Symphony Orchestra concert is a bold move and a welcome signal to other aspiring Singaporean composers.
The nine-minute work exudes a sense of adventure, opening with a chorale for string quartet, joined by percussion and orchestra with increasing intensity. A quiet section featuring solo violin follows, which gradually grows into a finale that brings back the opening theme. The work was an impressive debut for Koh, even if the finale did not fully deliver the exuberantly triumphant and optimistic conclusion that she described in her programme note.
Since his time as the orchestra's young associate conductor, Darrell Ang has led the orchestra as guest conductor with considerable success. His focus and control throughout the opening work were sharp and confident, and the orchestra responded well to his direction.
Pianist Melvyn Tan's interpretations of Mozart on fortepiano, the precursor to the modern grand piano, are world renowned. Performing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 on a modern concert grand piano, he retained all the wit, sensitivity and character that audiences have come to love in his playing.
Many great pianists have performed on the Esplanade's Steinway, but none have come close to producing the unique crispness and nimble sound that came from his fingerwork and measured pedalling. He gave each movement of the concerto its own character, and there was an overall sense of grace and lightness of being that made it a special performance.
Ang and the SSO provided very able accompaniment, although Tan's liberties with tempo were occasionally challenging. The clarinet section, however, seemed oblivious to the playfulness that the soloist lent to the irrepressible final movement, consistently outplaying the piano and the rest of the orchestra.
REVIEW / CONCERT
SSO 37TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT: EIN HELDENLEBEN
Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Darrell Ang - conductor, Melvyn Tan - piano
Esplanade Concert Hall
The tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life) by Richard Strauss is a work that places huge demands on the conductor, with solo passages for principal violin that call for musicianship of the highest level. Concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich's solos depicting the hero's female companion were exceptional - expressive and beautifully phrased.
Scored for eight horns, two tubas and three offstage trumpets, a strong reading of the piece requires much care and thought, and Ang had clearly prepared well for this performance. His growing maturity as a conductor shows and the steadiness with which he directed was impressive.
Through the most demanding passages there was little wavering or loss of momentum, although the sound tended to harden in the loudest passages. Greater freedom in tempo and attention to orchestral balance from Ang would have made this performance even more compelling.
Daringly programmed and featuring a spread of home-grown musical talent, this year's SSO anniversary concert was a bold, spirited concert to be proud of.