Quintet's refined performance a delight

REVIEW / CONCERT

EDQ - HOMECOMING

EDQ, Nicholas Loh (piano)

Esplanade Recital Studio

Monday

I went into this concert with no idea what the letters EDQ meant and came out none the wiser.

What I can report is that EDQ was formed in 2011 by former wind players from the Singapore National Youth Orchestra who, in 2013, gave a highly successful concert at the Esplanade Recital Studio.

Three years on, they have returned to the scene of their earlier triumph. They triumphed a second time.

The wind quintet repertory is small and wind quintet aficionados would be familiar with the two central works in this programme.

Carl Nielsen's Quintet and Malcolm Arnold's Three Shanties are utterly typical of their respective composers. Quintet is earnest, carefully constructed and at times naive but always perfectly suited to wind instruments, while Three Shanties music is fun.

The five wind players - Jasper Goh, Bernice Lee, Benjamin Wong, Emerald Chee and Kartik Alan - grasp the essence of the music, providing intimate snapshots in the odd set of variations on a simple hymn tune in Nielsen's work and successfully balancing rollicking humour with tight discipline in the Arnold.

The concert was framed by two works - neither I nor, I suspect, the vast majority of the full-house audience had heard before.

Henri Brod's Quintet In E Flat belongs to the spiritual home of all wind quintet music - Paris in the early years of the 19th century.

Elegant, sophisticated and bursting with fashionable tunes, the EDQ players showed refinement in their delicate handling of the textures, each instrument is given the space it needed to strut its stuff before it is graciously handed over to the next. Ideally paced and impressively coordinated, this was a delight to the ears.

Wallowing in the romance of late 19th-century Switzerland, Hans Huber's Sextet In B Flat added a piano to the mix to create a luxurious musical soundscape.

Nicholas Loh integrated the piano part into the quintet texture so seamlessly that there were times I did not realise he was there.

Melodramatic gestures and pompous statements from the piano quickly melded into the sweet little twitterings of the high winds, while the lower-voiced wind instruments and the resonant piano bass produced an opulent sound.

The presence of the piano did emphasise one small weakness which had been evident earlier in the performance - a certain sourness in wind tuning. But this took only a little edge off the performance, which was in every other respect a magnificent triumph.

Mystery solved. Whether intended or not, this is an Exceptionally Distinguished Quintet.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Quintet's refined performance a delight'. Print Edition | Subscribe