Quartet hold their own in concert with Swedish mezzo-soprano



Victoria Concert Hall/Wednesday

This concert, part of the VCH Presents series, could easily have been called Brooklyn Rider With Anne Sofie von Otter.

The New York-based string quartet, comprising violinists Colin Jacobsen and Johnny Gandelsman, violist Nicholas Cords and Michael Nicolas, were no mere accompanists to the renowned Swedish mezzo-soprano.

The foursome performed for the entire duration of the two-hour concert, including significant works on their own.

The pieces, which opened both halves, were long enough to make some wonder whether von Otter would even turn up.

Violinist Jacobsen's A Mirror For a Prince was a rhythmic dance-like work influenced by Middle Eastern idioms that began warm and congenial before abruptly turning edgy and abrasive more than midway through.

The Janus-like quality to the moods traversed showcased the ensemble's flexibility and versatility in varying tonal and timbral colour, thus altering perceptions.

Perhaps some neurochemical reactions were taking place and that was exploited fully in the second half's I Am My Own Achilles Heel, commissioned from Chinese composer Du Yun.

Premised on distorted imagery encountered in Alice In Wonderland Syndrome, the medicine-inspired work thrived on extreme dissonance, ethereal and otherwordly sound effects.

Only a trace of Asian influence crept up towards its end. The quartet (modelled along the lines of the long-established Kronos Quartet) totally owned these and other pieces by Philip Glass and Kyle Sanna, giving sensitive, top-notch performances. On their own merit, the concert could have been a sell-out.

Von Otter emerged in a purple gown with floral designs.

Although her programme was entirely of new works and popular music, those awed by her Bach, Mozart and Mahler need not shy away.

Her deep and sultry voice, mesmerising from the outset, was enough to convince sceptics with the opening French song, Cant Voi L'Aube by Caroline Shaw.

In Jacobsen's For Sixty Cents, a light-hearted cabaret song, she turned percussionist by striking a coffee cup with a wooden spatula.

She became more serious in operatic numbers. For John Adams' aria Am I In Your Light? (from Doctor Atomic), love segued from quiet to a passionate high before literally ticking the time away.

In Rufus Wainwright's Les Feux D'Artifice T'Appellent (Fireworks Calling Out To You), the pyrotechnics were mostly in the loaded words, beautifully delivered.

The second half was sung with amplification. Icelandic multifaceted pop icon Bjork's Cover Me and Hunter were pleasant surprises, with the latter's "I'm going hunting" spiel leading to a trance-like spell.

Glass' Freezing (from Liquid Days) had long lines over repeated arpeggios and chords, oft-replicated vintage stuff, really.

As if to show that pop stars had their more sober sides, Elvis Costello's Speak Darkly, My Angel was harmonically adventurous and smouldered with quiet intensity.

Kate Bush's Pi was more than a tongueful, playing with the numbers of that unending mathematical symbol.

The two encores, including love song Practical Arrangement by Sting, were rapturously received.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2019, with the headline 'Quartet hold their own in concert with Swedish mezzo-soprano'. Print Edition | Subscribe