Japan-Singapore tie-up

REVIEW / CONCERT

CHAMBER CONCERT

Suntory Hall Chamber Music Academy and Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music

Conservatory Concert Hall

Last Friday

A host of concerts has been taking place in Singapore to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties between the country and Japan and among them is the chamber concert held last Friday, which featured a collaboration between the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and the Suntory Hall Chamber Music Academy.

The prestigious Tokyo music academy provides young professional musicians opportunities to work with established artists and 11 of its musicians performed with seven students from the Singapore conservatory.

Together, they held two concerts last weekend. The one at the Conservatory Concert Hall last Friday featured movements from works that were performed in their entirety the next day at the National Gallery Singapore.

The first concert opened with the first movement of Beethoven's Gassenhauer Trio (Op. 11), which had Miao Kaiwen's clarinet blending resonantly with Airi Niwa's cello playing and Asaki Ino's piano performance. The balance was excellent with crisply delivered phrasing supported by wholeness of tone.

The three were then joined by violinist Oleksandr Korniev and the foursome floated dreamily through the ethereal sound world of Toru Takemitsu's Quatrain II. In this combination of instruments - which is also seen in Messiaen's Quartet For The End Of Time - the clarinet provided the main thematic interest and it was complemented by the lush harmonies on the piano and string dissonances.

This was a slow-moving piece of work where the pauses, silences and echoes played a major part in the musical discourse, evoking a sense of perpetual stasis and leaving a deep impression on the listeners.

Ernest Chausson's concerto, on the other hand, was the diametric opposite of zen. It is unusually scored for piano, violin and a string quartet and given its demanding parts and ambitious symphonic pretensions, the six players could be excused for a performance that did not totally gell in the monumental opening movement.

Korniev's violin solo sounded more attuned to the string quartet (violinists Orest Smovzh and Martin Peh, violist Ho Qian Hui and cellist Christopher Mui) and it rendered Kosuke Akimoto's florid piano playing almost as a peripheral figure.

Takemitsu's Le Son Calligraphie for eight string players opened the second half of the evening's concert. Seated in a semi-circle, each player in the conservatory's string quartet was placed opposite a corresponding member of the L'espase String Quartet (violinists Gentaro Kagitomi and Kyo Ogata, violist Moe Fukui and cellist Takuya Yuhara) from Japan.

The musicians dovetailed seamlessly in the three short, terse movements. The major solos went to the Japanese players and they were well supported by the performers from Singapore.

The final selections for the evening's programme were two movements from Antonin Dvorak's String Quintet No. 2 (Op. 77), with Japan's Arpa Quartet (violinists Nao Tohara and Kyoko Ogawa, violist Ayane Koga and cellist Yu Ito) joined by the conservatory's Zhang Jianzhe on double bass. The slow third movement radiated warmth in its stillness, almost approximating the spirituality to be found in Schubert's great String Quintet. The ebullience and cheer of its folk music-inspired finale closed the concert on an ecstatic high.

These 18 musicians will reprise their performance at the Suntory Hall in Japan on June 10.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'Japan-Singapore tie-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe