Virtuoso Series III: Winds
Singapore Chinese Orchestra
Singapore Conference Hall, last Saturday (Sept 25)
The third concert of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra's (SCO) Virtuoso Series of chamber concerts was devoted to the plangent sounds of Chinese wind instruments, focusing on the dizi, sheng and suona.
Responsible for unique and distinct timbres in orchestral concerts, these took on a life of their own as solo instruments when played by the orchestra's principals.
Guo Changsuo brought out a full range of colours from the sheng in Yan Haideng's Alluring Span Of The Peacock, which included the tricky technique of tremolo-tonguing. Even with an instrument that plays multiple tones simultaneously, this lent an otherworldly feel to a rhapsodic work that began slowly but gave way to an exuberant dance.
This same liveliness also possessed the Henan folk tune Grand Prelude, arranged by Li Guanglu, which was brief but unremittingly flashy.
Yin Zhiyang commanded two flutes, opening with the vertically played xiao in the ancient tune Autumn Yearning At The Dressing Table arranged by Du Ciwen and accompanied by Xu Hui on guzheng. This slow piece plumbed lower registers to express the melancholy of solitude.
The Hunan folk tune Partridges Flying, arranged by Zhao Songting, fully exploited the techniques of the transversely played dizi. Fluttering trills simulated the flitting of wings, followed by circular breathing in the work's dynamic final third. The audience might be excused for feeling somewhat breathless.
Suona principal Jin Shiyi opened with Mao Kuangping and Hu Zhihou's arrangement of Eighteen Songs On Nomad Flute, which, despite its title, was performed on the xinguan. This is a new reed instrument developed by Jin and his SCO colleague Liu Jiang which looks and sounds like a sawn-off clarinet.
In this meditative number accompanied by harpist Fontane Liang, a wealth of expressive feeling relived the trials and tribulations of Han dynasty heroine Lady Cai Wenji.
Jin's own arrangement of the Henan folktune Tribute To Homeland, accompanied by sheng and bangzi (wood blocks), was the perfect vehicle for his suona, played with the stentorian stridency of a ceremonial trumpet. Also filled with playful humour, there were slurs and slides aplenty which added to the sense of occasion.
Finally, an ensemble of nine performed Yu Huiyong and Hu Dengtiao's Theme Of Pioneers rearranged by Yeo Puay Hian. There were now two each of dizi, sheng and suona, supported by three percussionists.
This socialist-realist potboiler was a rowdy and raucous affair, celebrating the glorious years of "vigorous technological innovation" (as quoted in the programme notes) during the late 1950s. Was this referring to the Great Leap Forward? One surmises the "indomitable, courageous spirit of fearlessness" of the millions who perished should never be forgotten.
The hour-long concert was followed by an equally lively question-and-answer session, where the spontaneity and candour displayed by the three principals revealed another side to their virtuosity.