Angelic outing from virtuosos



Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall/Last Saturday

The Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall played host to two nights of chamber music last weekend.

Last Friday, the Takacs Quartet, based in the United States, performed Beethoven's string quartets. Last Saturday, the conservatory's faculty, virtuosos in their own right, took centre stage and it was a pleasure to hear them perform Mozart's Quintet In E Flat Major (K. 452) for piano and winds.

The conservatory's emerald- green Bosendorfer grand piano was wheeled out and pianist Bernard Lanskey, the conservatory's director, towered over the keyboard.

He had his back to the audience and the four wind players facing him. This unusual placement worked well because the mellow-sounding piano did not overpower the other instruments; the sound was homogeneous.

The winds' opening chord set the tone and the piano's crisply articulated introduction soon got the opening movement underway.

The interplay between guest clarinettist Dimitri Ashkenazy and faculty members Rachel Walker (oboe), Zhang Jin Min (bassoon) and Han Chang Chou (French horn) was excellent, especially in the serenade- like Larghetto slow movement, where each player took turns in solos that he luxuriated in.

The finale, with its chirpy theme, was another delight as the clarity of each part shone through. Tempos were kept brisk and perky, adding to the movement's rustic and bucolic quality as it danced its way to a cheerful close. Here was an august collection of highly skilled soloists and the same should be said of the young players from the Conservatory Chamber Ensemble, who performed German conductor Klaus Simon's arrangement of Mahler's Fourth Symphony.

The shortest and most lightly scored of the Austrian composer's 10 symphonies, it has just one instrument a part, which made for some interestingly transparent sounds.

Just as unusual was the scoring for piano (played by Foo Yi Xuan), accordion (Syafiqah 'Adha Sallehin) and harp (Charmaine Teo), which made up much of the accompaniment. Conductor Chan Tze Law, arguably Singapore's most important Mahler conductor, kept a tight rein on the proceedings and the result was unhurried playing.

Once one got used to the Viennese palm court band sound, Mahler's music pretty much spoke for itself. The sleigh-ride jingles of the opening movement rang out purposefully and it was soon apparent that every player was on the top of his game despite the highly exposed parts.

Special mention goes to first violinist Liu Minglun, who adroitly alternated between two violins in the scherzo-like second movement. One violin was tuned to a higher pitch to produce a sinister effect that depicts Death playing the fiddle. The spectre of mortality loomed high in this ironic movement, but was laid low for the lovely third movement, which had a leisurely and rarefied air.

This paved the entrance for German soprano Felicitas Fuchs, dressed in an emerald-green gown, who sang the verses of Das Himmlische Leben (The Heavenly Life).

This was a child's vision of celestial delights and, even if she did not try too hard to sound childlike, the sheer beauty of her voice, backed by musicians in their angelic best, was otherworldly bliss.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Angelic outing from virtuosos'. Print Edition | Subscribe