A musical tale of two countries

Commemorating 50 years of diplomatic relations between the nations, the music of three Singaporean and five Spanish composers was celebrated by three musicians who could justly be described as our brightest foreign talent.
Commemorating 50 years of diplomatic relations between the nations, the music of three Singaporean and five Spanish composers was celebrated by three musicians who could justly be described as our brightest foreign talent.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/THE ARTS HOUSE AT THE OLD PARLIAMENT

REVIEW / CONCERT

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Roberto Alvarez (flute) with Kseniia Vokhmianina (piano) and Katryna Tan (harp)

Living Room @ The Arts House

Last Friday


Despite its catchy Dickensian title, this concert, part of The Arts House's By Candlelight chamber music series, was more a "tale of two countries", namely Singapore and Spain. Commemorating 50 years of diplomatic relations between the nations, the music of three Singaporean and five Spanish composers was celebrated by three musicians who could justly be described as our brightest foreign talent.

The first half featured works for flute and piano, opening with Low Shao Suan's By The Fireplace. A warm glow emanated from Spanish flautist Alvarez's instrument in this melodious work which included influences such as Debussy and the Disney musical Beauty And The Beast. Low's twin sister Shao Ying's Dance Of Spring was a jolly and easy-going waltz with a Parisian air about it. Both would pass as classy mood music for a romantic movie.

These served as bookends for two Spanish works. Federico Moreno Torroba is better known for his guitar works, and his Dedicatoria similarly inhabited the world of dance and song, alternating between rhythmic and lyrical before closing with a brilliant flourish.

The big work was Salvador Brotons' Flute Sonata (1979) in two continuous movements, where the use of tone rows and dissonance, de rigueur in atonal music, was merely a means to an end. These devices and a phenomenal flute technique contrived to make this a demanding, but most attractive, work. It began quietly and, following a virtuosic cadenza, blazed into a mercurial and playful finale that had both Alvarez and Ukrainian pianist Vokhmianina stretched to their limits.

Malaysia-born harpist Tan joined Alvarez for the second half, which had Chen Zhangyi's aurally luscious Five Constellations as the first piece. These were short fantasies which conjured up phantasmagorical imagery through a skilful play of colour and timbre. Premiered and recorded on CD by the duo in 2011, they practically owned the work.

Jesus Guridi's Tirana was dance-inspired and an homage to Spanish violin virtuoso Pablo Sarasate, hence its elegant and yet showy turns balanced by a graceful lilt.

There was one further Singaporean connection, specifically in Fernando Agueria's Moonlight, which attempted to depict the country's tropical night scene, buzzing frenetically with activity and an underlying unease.

The 90-minute concert closed with two familiar Spanish works from Isaac Albeniz's Suite Espanola. Granada was gentle and melancholic, while Asturias was busy and vigorous, pulsing with an energised flamenco beat.

A Spanish encore united all three performers. According to Alvarez, Suspiros De Espana (Sighs Of Spain) by Antonio Alvarez Alonso is a pasodoble, or bull-fighting dance, beloved of all Spaniards. His cheerful and upbeat arrangement for flute, harp and piano ensured that it was enjoyed by Singaporeans as well.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2018, with the headline 'A musical tale of two countries'. Print Edition | Subscribe