Advantage ensemble




Victoria Concert Hall/Wednesday

The day re:Sound, Singapore's first professional chamber orchestra, gave its inaugural concert will be remembered with fondness. Its second concert, conducted by Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) associate conductor Jason Lai on Wednesday, showed that all the critical acclaim and good notices were fully justified.

The essence of chamber music lies in diminutive forces, with a small number of individuals listening and responding to one another in a show of intimate cooperation. This was well-illustrated in avant- garde Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti's Ramifications, scored for 12 string players, each with a different part.

With six players tuned a quarter- tone sharper than the others, the effect was one of deliberate aural disorientation through constantly wavering pitches. Like a floor that shifts under one's feet, the sound evolved from an incessant buzzing, through high-pitched tinnitus to subterranean growls, all achieved with utmost control at low volumes.

This "music" then evaporated, leaving the conductor beating time in thin air and ambient silence. These startling plays on sonics will explain why film director Stanley Kubrick so effectively used Ligeti's music for his iconic movies 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and The Shining (1980).

Altogether more traditional was Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto In G Major with veteran Penang-born pianist Dennis Lee as soloist. His delivery of its opening chords was pivotal, a secure statement borne from a wealth of experience, which defined the tenor of this reading. His was a more classical-attuned view, of transparent textures, measured gestures and no little nimbleness, as opposed to the boisterously Romantic version offered by Nicholas Angelich recently with the SSO.

Both Lee and Angelich had much to offer in this masterpiece, but one factor that tipped in Lee's favour was the smaller ensemble, which revealed often glossed-over details besides providing sensitive accompaniment. The rapt conversation of Orpheus and the Furies in the slow movement was a lovely interlude before the unbridled jollity of the finale.

The programming of Mendelssohn's Third Symphony (also known as the "Scottish") seemed like straying into SSO territory, but this was an enthralling account that revelled in the chamber forces utilised. Instead of falling victim to the concert hall's sometimes feared reverberance, the strings sang without inhibition, while woodwinds and brass rang with bell-like clarity.

Conductor Lai's tempos were excellently judged and the solemnity of the opening movement (evoking the ruins of Edinburgh's Holyrood castle) contrasted well with the vigorous Allegro that followed. Storm clouds hovered menacingly, but sunshine prevailed in this luminous account, which also gloried in the snappy and mercurial Scherzo, and nostalgia of the song-like slow movement.

The martial finale did not strike a warlike posture for long, instead delighting in the ending chorale cast in the major key.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2017, with the headline 'Advantage ensemble'. Print Edition | Subscribe