Enraptured by quintets



Take 5

Esplanade Recital Studio


Continuing their trawl through the hidden glories of the piano quintet repertory, Take 5 netted two significant British works for their latest concert. The works were written five years apart and in the same city, but a whole world of turmoil and emotional upheaval separates them.

Frank Bridge's Quintet, completed in 1912, is full of contentment and optimism - the work of a young composer embarking on a promising career. Arnold Bax's Quintet of 1917 is shot through with anguish and pessimism - the utterances of a middle-aged composer living through the horrors of World War I and also the atrocities being carried out in the fight for independence in his beloved Ireland.

So, while it was good to have this chance to hear the works played live, it was possibly not the best idea to programme them side by side and expect both to come up roses.

After a wobbly start in which the unison strings ran a little out of alignment, this was an exceptionally fine performance of the Bridge Quintet. Violinists Foo Say Ming and Lim Shue Churn relished its wealth of sumptuous melodies, while Chan Yoong Han luxuriated in the lavish material written for an instrument which Bridge played professionally. The overall richness of string tone was gorgeous.

Lim Yan strode happily through the extremely virtuoso piano parts of both works. Indeed, his playing was outstanding, a glorious example of near-perfect collaborative piano-playing, and did much to compensate for the cracks which began to appear in the Bax.

Bax was a dreamer. His most famous scores - The Garden Of Fand and Tintagel - evoke mythical worlds and fantasy lands. The state of the real world as seen from London in 1917 must have shattered his dreams and his Quintet is filled with anguish, agony, bitterness and despair, which this performance was short on.

Cellist Chan Wei Shing produced the only real hint of it when his high, strained melody sounded out above the low chords of the upper strings like the wailing of a grief- stricken war widow. Otherwise, the players seemed uneasy with such restrained but intense emotions.

They obviously enjoyed the last movement's boisterous dance and their playing had plenty of energy and vigour here. But it needed irony to make any sense in this context and, possibly, the members of Take 5 are too nice to deal in irony.

What they do deal in, and deal in brilliantly, is capturing and holding an audience's attention. Despite the unfamiliarity of the music and the somewhat rarefied nature of its musical language, they had the audience totally rapt for the entire concert.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2017, with the headline 'Enraptured by quintets'. Print Edition | Subscribe