A TASTE OF VIENNA
Musicians from the Orchestre des Champs-Elysees
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra Hall/Last Friday (Sept 9)
This concert killed two birds with one stone. It celebrated 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Austria, and also came at the end of a week when members of one of Europe's leading period-performance ensembles had been in residence at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory.
The first of these was marked at the concert by music from two native Austrian composers, while the second saw Singapore conservatory string players performing alongside the Paris-based professionals.
Schubert's enchanting String Trio movement, in which cellist Hilary Metzger was joined by students Zhao Chun Yi (violin) and Wei Jun-Ting (viola), provided a beautifully elegant and refined start to the programme. Neat, precise, well balanced and intelligently paced, this was a performance that not only encapsulated the essence of early 19th -century Vienna, but showed how fruitful the work done here by the Champs-Elysees musicians had been.
What made the performance of Mozart's Horn Quintet so immensely satisfying was the way in which the Champs-Elysees hornist, Jean-Pierre Dassonville, could integrate so easily with the string ensemble - students Liu Minglun, May Loh Qiao Qian and Jiang Yukun along with cellist Hilary Metzger. He blended in unobtrusively at times, shone through brightly at others, and cleverly matched the string articulation in their witty musical dialogues.
Introducing this performance, Metzger had drawn attention to their efforts to instil into the students authentic 18th-century playing techniques. If this was a novel approach for the student players, they gave no hint of unfamiliarity with these techniques, and showed impressive stylistic authority in everything they did.
Not to be outdone, Metzler herself dispensed with the customary cello spike, and supported her instrument entirely on her lower legs.
A different string ensemble - violinist Marion Larigaudrie and violist Jean-Philippe Vasseur alongside students Jennifer Lim Yi Mei and Chen Ying - supported clarinettist Daniele Latini, in the major work of the programme, Mozart's ever-popular Clarinet Quintet.
After such excellent earlier performances, this was a little disappointing. Tuning was never quite comfortable - noticeably this group chose not to tune up on stage - and while the discrepancy of pitch between clarinet and strings was insignificant, it was enough to take a bit of the shine off the performance.
There was a little untidiness in the strings at the very start - perhaps they were unsettled by the sour tuning - but by the gorgeous slow movement, the players were completely in their stride with Latini's eloquent and lyrical tone perfectly capturing the essence of Mozart's deeply affectionate tribute to the clarinet, an instrument which was still something of a novelty in his day but which, rather like Austrian/Singaporean relations, we now almost take for granted.