Period instrument ensemble a work in progress

REVIEW / CONCERT

MUSIC OF THE FRENCH BAROQUE

Cheryl Lim (flute), Alan Choo (violin), Leslie Tan and Melissa Ong (cellos), Tan Qin Ying (harpsichord)

Victoria Concert Hall

Sunday

Period instrument ensembles - groups whose focus is on performing 17th and 18th century music using the instruments of the time - are gaining ground. The interest lies as much in the fascinating sounds these archaic instruments make as in the authentic techniques the players employ.

Singapore does not boast a professional Period Instrument Ensemble yet. This concert saw a quintet of five disparate Singapore players brought together by their shared interest in authentic performance. However, they have a long way to go before they can begin to sound anything like the well-established groups from Northern Europe, the United Kingdom or Australia.

Wisely, they chose to avoid comparison with those in familiar German/Italian repertory and presented instead a programme of more rarefied fare from the French Baroque. Unfortunately, it was an area of repertory in which not all of them seemed entirely at ease.

Alan Choo and Tan Qin Ying seemed the most comfortable. Choo made his presence felt with virtuosic playing in some fun-filled dances by composer Jean-Philippe Rameau and a first-rate account of a Sonata by Jean-Marie Leclair.

For her part, Tan was not just an ever-attentive harpsichordist, but provided the only visual aspect to the performance. To the accompaniment of the other players, she abandoned the harpsichord and performed authentic dance steps to go with two courtly dances by Jean-Baptiste Lully.

That lack of visual interest was the biggest disappointment here. They may not always have sounded like an ensemble used to working with one another and they most certainly do not look like one. Dressed more like random passengers on a bus - one attired for the ballroom, one in jeans, one looking like a tired office clerk, one dressed as if for a party and one adding a touch of domesticity with a simple cardigan - one could not help wishing they had thought to recreate the look of the period with as much care as they had worked to recreate the sound of it.

Bearing in mind that the ensemble was built around instruments of historical interest, the fact that the programme book did not make a single mention of any one of the instruments being played was a major omission. It would have been interesting, for example, to know about Cheryl Lim's wooden transverse flutes, so eloquently displayed in five dances by composer and flautist Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, or about the two different cellos of Leslie Tan and Melissa Ong, which groaned mournfully in a bizarre movement by Antoine Forqueray.

As a performance, this was very much a work in progress, although progress was made.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline 'Period instrument ensemble a work in progress'. Print Edition | Subscribe