Classics with Cantonese flavour

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra has been systematically exploring the music of different regions and dialect groups of China.
The Singapore Chinese Orchestra has been systematically exploring the music of different regions and dialect groups of China.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

REVIEW / CONCERT

CANTONESE CLASSICS

Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Victoria Concert Hall/Last Friday

The Singapore Chinese Orchestra has been systematically exploring the music of different regions and dialect groups of China. This concert conducted by Yeh Tsung centred on works composed and performed by musicians from Guangdong and Hong Kong.

Two popular melodies featured in the first part, Han Tian Lei (Thunderstorm And Drought) and Bu Bu Gao (Stepping Up). The first song had a popular contemporary beat in Zhao Dong Sheng's orchestration, heavily utilising drum- set and electric guitar, with Han Lei's guanzi providing jazzy riffs. The second song was a quick-stepping march so rousing that it had Yeh gyrating to its beat.

Dizi exponent Ricky Yeung Wai Kit from Hong Kong gave the Singapore premiere of Zhang Wei Liang's Sea Of South China. Mastering its floridly ornamented part with gusto, his incisive and penetrating tone on the bangdi often rose above the orchestra's machinations.

Gaohu specialist Yu Le Fu from Guangzhou, also a guitarist in rock group Bubble Gum Pop, starred in his own concerto, Clouds Over The Autumn Lake. A captivating opening solo saw the work unfurl like a virtuosic epic of intense emotions. Climaxing in a passionate cadenza accompanied by a single sustained pedal-point, there was no let-up to its spectacular close.

Unique to Cantonese music is a chamber ensemble of five players known as the wujiatou. Comprising bowed strings (two players), plucked strings, dizi and yangqin, it represented a more intimate form of musical expression.

In Lu Wen Cheng's Autumn Moon Over A Placid Lake (arranged by Yu), there were murmurs aplenty within the audience when its familiar melody emerged from the accompanying filigree.

The wujiatou then became a nucleus of soloists, partnered by more instruments in a series of works. Yu's Walking In The Rain With A Sunny Heart, originally a gaohu solo, benefited from this augmentation. Li Zhu Xin's Gong Che He Shi Shang, a set of variations, was lit up by guanzi and dizi contributions.

Impressive was Wang Dan Hong's Yue Dui Kou Lian Huai (Heart Raveling Orchestra), a modern work which played like an 18th-century baroque concerto grosso.

The final work, Fang Xiao Min's An Ode To Revolution, also had Cantonese inspiration - the founding father of the Republic of China, Sun Yat-Sen, and his part in overthrowing the Manchus. Martial and jingoistic to equal degree, it curiously quoted the song America (better known here as God Save The Queen), probably a representation of Sun's democractic ideal. That the work's main motif resembled Gershwin's I Got Rhythm was probably coincidental. Here it might well have been "I Got Freedom".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'Classics with Cantonese flavour'. Print Edition | Subscribe