Concert review: Nafa orchestra and chorus deliver a performance of conviction and passion

THE VIENNESE SCHOOLS

Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Orchestra & Chorus

Lee Foundation Theatre/Thursday

The title of this concert by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Orchestra and Chorus refers to the two historical movements centred in Vienna that revolutionised the course of Western music. The first was the classical school of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, while the second was represented by the 20th-century atonality of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern.

The evening's very short first half comprised wholly of Anton Webern's Six Orchestral Pieces Op. 6, epitome of terseness and astringency that characterised the Austrian's output. Its emphasis was on creating a specific tonal colour, known as klangfarb in German, rather than portraying a scene or mood. To this end conductor Lim Yau succeeded in coaxing a fine balance of sound from the young musicians.

Although certain solos sometimes struggled in their parts, there was an arch-like development to the pivotal fourth movement, where percussion and winds managed to convincingly craft a crescendo of shattering and cataclysmic impact. The programme notes referred to the death of Webern's mother as an influence, but this is absolute music at its purest and most uncompromising.

Mozart's Requiem in D minor was the prime reason why this concert was very well attended. Conductor Lim elected to perform Robert Levin's revision of the classic instead of the familiar and commonly heard Franz Sussmayr version. Levin was considered to have come closer to the spirit of the composer in a masterpiece that was left tantalisingly incomplete on his deathbed.

This meant paring down the orchestration in certain parts to better highlight the choir and altering some un-Mozartian quirks in the score. In the same spirit, basset horns favoured by the composer were employed instead of clarinets in this performance. A further addition was a new fugal Amen which followed the Lacrimosa, Mozart's final utterance.

Typical of choirs trained by Lim, the Nafa Chorus was well-disciplined, accurate in pronunciation and consonants, and generally immaculate in fugal passages. Of sturdy and robust voice, the women outnumbered and out-sang the men; the latter group could do with further boosting and the vocal equivalent of Viagra. Their entry in Confutatis Maledictis was rather flaccid, for example.

The quartet of soloists, formed by faculty and students, were in good form and complemented one another well. They were introduced in sequence in Tuba Mirum, baritone Huang Rong-Hai, tenor Jeremy Koh, mezzo-soprano Jessica Chen and soprano Su Yiwen. From the opening Kyrie Eleison to the final Cum Sanctis Tuis, this was a very satisfying performance, filled with conviction and passion.

The concert was dedicated to the memory of Leong Yoon Pin, Lim Shieh Yih and Ong Lip Tat, all of whom were giants - figuratively and literally - of Nafa and Singapore music.