Flautist's delightful flight of fancy

Conductor Wong Kah Chun and flautist Karl-Heinz Schutz.
Conductor Wong Kah Chun and flautist Karl-Heinz Schutz. PHOTO: SSO

With debuts this season in the United States, Canada, Germany, Japan and China, Wong Kah Chun is getting to be hot property on the international conducting circuit.

This weekend, he was back in his native Singapore for a return visit to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in a programme of Rich Romantic Repertory by composers with names beginning with the letter R.

It is probably impossible for anyone to make Reinecke's Flute Concerto sound anything other than an innocuous concoction of pleasant melodies and, to be fair, that was probably not Wong's intention.

It was not in the programme to add substance - it was there because it is a flute concerto and there are precious few of those around.

Certainly, it afforded Karl-Heinz Schutz a golden opportunity to display his beautiful tone and his charmingly fluid style of flute playing.

Wong kept the orchestra sufficiently suppressed to give Schulz all the space he needed to indulge in colourful display, delightful little flights of fancy and a wealth of enchanting technical nuances.

The Reinecke provided a nice, light-hearted concert opener which never for a moment risked stepping on the toes of the big, serious work which formed the bulk of this programme - Rachmaninov's Second Symphony.



    Karl-Heinz Schutz (flute), Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Wong Kah Chun (conductor)

    Esplanade Concert Hall

    Last Saturday

Weighing in at a full 60 minutes, Rachmaninov's Second Symphony has become such a staple of the SSO's repertory that sheer familiarity meant that time passed almost unnoticed.

One senses that they know it so well, they could almost play it in their sleep.

Nevertheless, there was nothing remotely soporific about this performance.

Wong brought a young man's perspective to it and with a sizzling second movement scherzo and a boisterous finale (complete with his oddly volatile right leg, which seemed often to be aiming at a non-existent football somewhere in the vicinity of the cellos), he kicked into touch those moments of self-indulgence and emotional excess which have characterised some of the SSO's previous engagements with the work.

For the roller-coaster emotional ride of the first movement and the almost unbearably lovely third movement, Wong seemed largely content to let the orchestra do its own thing.

The trouble was, when he did try to impose a little bit of restraint, a sense of unease crept in, as if some sections of the orchestra were not going to let this young conductor persuade them to abandon long-cherished ideas for a symphony with which they have enjoyed a long-standing relationship.

Rachmaninov's music, though, is too powerful to allow minor local skirmishes to disrupt it and when it reached its triumphant ending, the audience inevitably burst into prolonged, rapturous and genuinely appreciative applause.

Nobody, it seemed, was going to let anything sour this joyful and happy concert.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2019, with the headline Flautist's delightful flight of fancy. Subscribe