Concert review: Singapore National Youth Orchestra, in fine form, celebrates Italian music

The Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) manages 186 talented young musicians from 47 schools in the nation, giving them a platform to perform symphonic music at a highest possible level. Its concerts are a showcase of the vast potential this nation possesses as well as the diversity of thematic programming. Its latest concert, Viva I'Italia!, held yesterday at Victoria Concert Hall was a celebration of Italian music, from the Renaissance to the late 19th century.

The orchestra's principal conductor Leonard Tan also served as the concert's highly animated presenter, humorously explaining each work while lauding his charges for their sterling efforts. This kind of encouragement worked wonders as the players were in fine form for the eight works performed in this demanding programme.

The first half was devoted to music for smaller ensembles. Eight brass players separated by the length of the stage performed the Venetian Giovanni Gabrieli's Sacra Sinfonia Sonata Pian 'E Forte, which simulated the antiphonal effect of ceremonial music within a cathedral. There was some shaky intonation at the start but the double quartet soon warmed up and produced a rich and resonant sonority.

The orchestral winds revelled in Julie Giroux's Italian Rhapsody, a fun piece which rehashed popular melodies like Puccini's Musetta's Waltz (from La Boheme), Luigi Denza's Funiculi Funicula and Verdi's Anvil Chorus (Il Trovatore). Samuel Chan's excellent clarinet solos led the way into this cheerful romp of a piece.

Somewhat more serious was Vivaldi's Double Cello Concerto in G minor (RV.531), where soloists Megan Lim and Lau Yun Xi clearly and confidently articulated their parts while exhibiting very good chemistry together. The chamber accompaniment was discreet yet supportive. A larger group of strings with two oboes and two French horns then polished up Mozart's early Symphony No.10 in G major. Its three short movements, from the 14-year-old prodigy, were lit up with playing of a rare blazing intensity by players scarcely little older.

The concert's second half comprised wholly of orchestral highlights from the great operas. An arresting drumroll and martial strains opened Rossini's Overture to The Thieving Magpie, from which an exciting allegro ensued. Clearly, the orchestra understood how a patented Rossinian crescendo worked, and this dramatic device was milked to quite thrilling effect.

Orchestral strings were given the chance to shine in the famous Intermezzo from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, a poignant few minutes made even more so with conductor Tan's cogent synopsis of the opera's fatalism. The full orchestra then dug in for Ponchielli's popular Dance Of The Hours (from La Gioconda), which had lightness, whimsicality and the full tilt for a final flourish.

To close was Rossini's William Tell Overture, which saw more fine solos from Megan Lim's cello, Leow Rui Qing's cor anglais and Rachel Ho's flute. Perhaps a couple more rehearsals would have better sealed the final package but there was no denying the adrenaline rush elicited by that furious gallop that has now become forever associated with the Lone Ranger.

As an encore, the Lone Ranger rode again but at a more frenetic tempo and with the orchestra on its feet. That was enough to bring out the bravos and a standing ovation.