A homage to classical greats

REVIEW / CONCERT

STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS

re:Sound with Pavlo Beznosiuk, leader

Victoria Concert Hall

Last Friday

The history of classical music has been one of composers copying and emulating the styles of earlier composers, developing their own niches before being copied and emulated by younger colleagues.

This is compositional evolution taking place, punctuated by the occasional revolution from composers such as Beethoven or Stravinsky.

This concert by re:Sound, Singapore's first professional chamber music group, eloquently demonstrated the process of musical Darwinism spanning almost 200 years.

The journey began with Antonio Vivaldi's Overture To La Senna Festeggiante, described by re:Sound founder Mervin Beng as a proto-symphony.

Its three very short movements, in the fast-slow-fast form, served like a perfect appetiser before the main course. The performance by just 12 string players, two oboists and one bassoonist was crisp and finely hewn, directed by British violinist-conductor Pavlo Beznosiuk from the leader's chair.

What followed was unprecedented, two important symphonies from two different eras performed by alternating their movements in sequence.

This allowed the listener to enjoy and ponder on the influences Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), so-called "Father of the Symphony", had on Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), an enfant terrible of music during the early 20th century.

This eight-movement upsized symphony in D major opened with the emphatic gestures of Haydn's Symphony No. 104 (composed in 1795), his last, also known as the "London Symphony".

The sonata form of its first movement was well-illuminated, with a slow introduction giving way to a vigorous and spirited allegro. The infectiousness of his style was repeated in the corresponding movement of Prokofiev's First Symphony (1917), appropriately called the "Classical Symphony".

The Russian meant this as a homage rather than mere pastiche, and the slow second movements of both symphonies soon followed. Haydn's was a short series of variations while Prokofiev's a graceful serenade which could only be described as Haydn-esque.

The Minuet and Trio of Haydn's third movement was a lively way to close the concert's first half.

The concertgoers were given the chance to applaud whenever the spirit led them, which meant clapping between movements without attracting disapproving looks from know-it-alls.

That was what 19th-century audiences did anyway, thus some authenticity was being observed.

Like entertainment of that period, concerts also showcased soloists in virtuoso concertos.

That was where Australian-Chinese cellist Qin Li-Wei came in, performing Tchaikovsky's Variations On A Rococo Theme with the verve and flair expected of him. The Mozartean theme itself was simple and unadorned, but the ensuing variations showed the breadth and depth of a cellist's artistry.

Qin's tone was breathtaking and credit also goes to re:Sound's discreet accompaniment and excellent woodwind cameos.

Then it was back to Prokofiev's Classical Symphony with its brief third movement Gavotte sounding a little over-emphatic and impatient, as if straining to rush into the mercurial finale.

Even before the applause could end, a bucolic drone in D ushered in Haydn's exuberant finale, showing that the old masters still had the final word.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 09, 2019, with the headline 'A homage to classical greats'. Print Edition | Subscribe