Re:Sound Chamber Orchestra does Mozart with vitality

REVIEW / CONCERT

MOZART AND BEYOND

Melvin Tan (piano) Re:Sound Chamber Orchestra Lim Soon Lee (conductor)

Victoria Concert Hall/Wednesday

Almost exactly one year ago, Melvin Tan was in Singapore performing a Mozart Piano Concerto and Jonathan Dove's An Airmail Letter From Mozart.

On his return this week, he was joined by a different orchestra, performed a different Mozart Concerto - No. 17 instead of No. 14 - but again played An Airmail Letter From Mozart.

Tan directed the performance of these two works from the piano. Perhaps not so much from the piano as in close proximity to it. He danced and skipped around it, arms outstretched, fingers splayed, sashaying beguilingly in time with the music.

The musicians of Re:Sound responded with gloriously fresh, vital and buoyant playing.

Tan's apparent reticence to sit down at the piano and play it belied the fact that, when he did do just that, he brought sparkle and infectious joy to the whole performance. There were a couple of scary moments in the Mozart when, having led the orchestra up to the collective pause before the piano cadenzas, he found himself dangerously far away from the keyboard.

But by some miracle, he managed to get his hands onto the keys just in time, although his body still seemed to be suspended in mid-air.

In the Dove work, there were times when he decided not to sit down to play, seeming to find an extra hand to rattle out a few scales while demonstratively caressing the orchestral sound with the others.

This was a piece written for Tan to take on tour to the United States in 1993 and includes several clever little portraits of American musical life of the 1990s. While this was a performance full of charm and wit, Tan was playing it on a modern concert grand piano - last year, he had used the brighter, more intimate fortepiano.

As if to compensate for the bigger sound, he was almost too discreet, merging into the orchestral texture rather than providing a glittering presence above it. But at least this provided an opportunity to savour the remarkable job Hoang van Hoc and Kartik Alan Jairamin did in taming their ungainly natural horns. They fully deserved the special ovation Tan pressed on them.

A different composer and conductor and a larger orchestra occupied the stage for the second half.

If Tan had danced and skipped his way through the music, Lim Soon Lee was an altogether more earth-bound presence. Perhaps his grounded stability was too much of a contrast for the players or perhaps Mendelssohn's worthy but uninspiring Fifth Symphony needed a more inspirational presence on the rostrum to pull it off.

Whatever the reason, this was a spongy, stodgy, ill-balanced performance, which only served to show why this is the least favoured and least performed of Mendelssohn's symphonies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2017, with the headline 'Fresh, vital and buoyant Mozart'. Print Edition | Subscribe