Concert review: Stellar showing by Joshua Tan, Loh Jun Hong with the SSO

It is a rare occurrence for three Singaporeans to headline a regular concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, but it happened on Thursday at the Victora Concert Hall, and it speaks volumes that our local talents are receiving their due recognition both here and abroad.

Terrence Wong's Five Images For Orchestra was the latest commissioned work to receive its world premiere, and it couldn't have been in better hands than in those of young associate conductor Joshua Tan.

With its title, one would have been expecting to be overwhelmed with colours and textures from the score, but was instead greeted by a placid 12 minutes of futility.

Despite the best efforts of Tan, the orchestra just could not overcome the lack of creative material as the entire work was formed upon a few notes rehashed aimlessly by different instruments. The first movement, Running, was a play on the musical notes F and G, while the introduction of a seventh chord in Passing Clouds was as puzzling as the random trills played by the French horn and strings.

The Atomic Bomb fared better with frenzied chromatics passing from one string section to the other, but the pairing of timpani and cymbals with a token whistle entry in Fresh Recruits made it sound more like a festive Lion Dance procession.

Although Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto has become one of the most popular and overplayed works today, it was described as "vulgar" and "savage" at its premiere. Often treated with more panache than finesse, there were thankfully none of those qualities on display with violinist Loh Jun Hong as soloist as he kept the virtuosity in check.

Loh, Singapore's lone semi-finalist at the recent 1st Singapore International Violin Competition, possesses a prodigious technique and it was his seamless control of tone that made this partnership with Tan and the orchestra a success.

From his very first solo entrance, it was clear that Loh was a musician who valued refinement over flashes of brilliance, but it also made the movement teeter on being safe. The double stops and multitude of running scales were delivered with surgical precision which served to make the lyrical moments more sincere.

Tan held a confident fort on the podium, always alert to tempi changes and entrances were spot-on. The orchestra was unleashed during tutti passages for its full orchestral grandeur, but sensitive enough never to overpower the soloist.

Awarded a rapturous ovation by the appreciative audience, Loh returned for several well-deserved curtain calls before obliging with the Double from Bach's Partita No. 1 as encore.

Rarely has all the different sections of the orchestra clicked together the way they did in their exquisite performance of Brahm's Fourth Symphony Op. 98, which requires a detailed balance of timbre and clarity of texture.

From the blazing trombones to the violins which delivered swaying lines with a Germanic lilt, the orchestra admirably responded to Tan going for broke.

The Victoria Concert Hall has a puzzling acoustical problem that can make performances sound diffused and sections overly resonant, so it is a credit to Tan that he managed to create a full-bodied Brahmsian sonority while managing to ensure every line in the dense orchestration was clearly heard.

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra delivering one of its finest performances with a Singaporean soloist and conductor, making it a great day for the local music scene.

Book It

Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto

Where: Victoria Concert Hall

When: Friday, 7.30pm

Tickets: $20-$72 from Sistic (www.sistic.com.sg)