Bumpy, but vivid journey to a distant land

REVIEW / CONCERT

SIBELIUS 1

Orchestra of the Music Makers/ Christopher Adey (conductor), Alan Choo (violin)

School of the Arts Concert Hall/Sunday

Foreigners' Views Of Distant Lands would have been an appropriate title for this concert. Certainly that was the unstated thread running through the whole concert.

In The South was English composer Edward Elgar's musical impressions of Italy. His impressions centred on its history, churches and the heat, like that of many other visitors to the country.

After a gloriously exuberant start, great whoops of joy bursting from the Orchestra of the Music Makers' (OMM) horns, English conductor Christopher Adey let the heat get to him and both balance and ensemble wilted under the tropical heat of a Singapore evening.

Moments of pseudo-religious contemplation also felt a bit too steamy to be convincing, but the images of ancient Roman armies on the march were vividly conveyed, powerfully underpinned by some tremendously robust brass and percussion work.

Ukrainian composer Sergei Prokofiev's travellers' tales were altogether more complex. He wrote his Second Violin Concerto while on a world tour and intended it for a Belgian violinist and a Spanish audience.

The outer movements, not least the very Spanish-infused finale, felt a bit world-weary and certainly lacked the incisive rhythmic edge which is so much part of Prokofiev's musical character. However, Alan Choo took full command of the lovely central movement, soaring sublimely above the gently ticking orchestral accompaniment. He distinguished himself, and the entire performance, with his gorgeous tone and an unerring feel for the music's exotic character.

Few of the musicians in the OMM would have experienced at first hand the icy lakes and dark forests of Finland, so atmospherically portrayed by Sibelius in his First Symphony. But while the images were of a land half a world away, that did not stop these Singaporeans from evoking powerfully compelling visions in a truly awe-inspiring performance. They opened up musical vistas with all the selfassurance of native guides, eager to display every nook and cranny of a beloved homeland.

Adey led them with a sure hand, working the great waves of climax to their fullest effect and drawing every bit of drama and visionary zeal from a score with which he was obviously completely at home, barely glancing at the miniature score he had on the conductor's stand.

From the Symphony's opening clarinet solo - magically conveyed by Vincent Goh - through the wonderfully sweeping violin theme of the second movement, the rustic stamping dance of the third, and on to the Symphony's elusive ending, this was a performance of vivid imagery, summoning up potent musical visions of a distant land. It made a glorious finish to a somewhat bumpy musical journey.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'Bumpy, but vivid journey to a distant land'. Print Edition | Subscribe