Brief but fruitful musical encounter

REVIEW / CONCERT

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS: A MUSICAL AFFAIR

Metropolitan Festival Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall/Sunday

The title of this concert was probably derived from the 1945 David Lean-directed black-and-white movie Brief Encounter, in which Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto featured prominently in the soundtrack.

It, however, accurately describes the musical collaboration between musicians from Singapore and Austria in this concert, organised by local non-profit organisation Global Cultural Alliance.

The first half featured the popular Rachmaninov concerto with young Singaporean pianist Li Churen in the demanding solo role. From the intent and demeanour of its opening chords on the Bosendorfer Imperial Grand, one could tell the confident and self-assured Li was going to put her personal stamp on the old warhorse.

And it was not a self-indulgent spiel, but a totally musical affair in which the music came first.

She comfortably surmounted its striding arpeggios, heavy octaves and tricky fingerwork, ably abetted by the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra conducted by Chan Tze Law.

It was towards the slow movement's close, with only strings accompanying her passionate chords, which provided the concerto's most heartrending moments.

Even when she took liberties in stretching out the final cadenza, it was the blazing conclusion that elicited the longest applause.

The second half was almost double the length of the first and it featured the 60-strong Chorus Sine Nomine from Austria with the same orchestra conducted by Johannes Hiematsberger.

The main work on show was Schubert's Mass No. 6 In E Flat Major (D. 950), composed in the final year of his all-too-brief life.

The choir's size and experience of its singers (it is not a youth choir) ensured that the widest possible range of dynamics was encompassed all through its heavenly length - about 50 minutes, typical of late Schubert.

From the quiet opening Kyrie Eleison expanding to the ecstatic declamations of the Gloria and Sanctus, rising to lofty heights of Brucknerian grandeur, there was little that the mass of voices missed.

Both the women and men's sections were well-matched and homogeneously merged as one.

In the Credo, the three solo voices of tenors Jakob Tobias Pejcic and Florian Ehrlinger and soprano Marie-Antoinette Stabentheiner emerged. The effable lilt in Et Incarnatus Est, with its gentle triplet rhythm, was simply delightful.

A solo quartet completed by alto Daniela Janezic and bass-baritone Daniel Gutmann distinguished in the Benedictus, albeit too briefly, but it was the statuesque Stabentheiner's soaring voice that stood out.

All the fugal sections were splendidly handled by the chorus, no doubt the effort of Hiematsberger's meticulous and expert honing.

Before the mass, which headily closed the concert, there was more easy listening in choral favourites.

Brahms' Wie Lieblich Sind Deine Wohnungen (How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place) from A German Requiem, Faure's Cantique De Jean Racine (sung in French) and Parry's Blest Pair Of Sirens (in English) merely served as the warming-up prelude for the Schubert.

However brief this encounter was, may there be more of such fruitful collaborations of equals.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2017, with the headline 'Brief but fruitful musical encounter'. Print Edition | Subscribe