Quintet's mutual understanding shine through



Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall

Last Friday

Concertgoers who did not see the small, dark notice by an entrance door will be surprised to learn that the first piece performed in this concert was by Mozart.

It was not written for living, breathing musicians and, possibly embarrassed at being associated with such an odd venture, Mozart seems to have gone all out to disguise his work.

The Fantasia In F Minor was written for an ornamental clock, which, by means of an automated mechanism, marked each hour with a specially commissioned piece of music. This was Mozart's contribution.

Usually played on the organ, it was presented here as a wind quintet. The five musicians from the German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra based in Saarbrucken conveyed the strangely impersonal and mechanical character of the piece in a performance marked by a clockwork-like tempo and deliberate lack of emotional engagement.

Beyond being members of the same orchestra, these are also five distinguished soloists - hornist Han Xiao-Ming only last month released internationally an album of Mozart's solo horn music - and this combination of mutual musical understanding and personal virtuosity was evident in all their playing.

These aspects figured largely in the substantial Wind Quintet by August Klughardt.

Possibly a work that reveals its charms more to the player than the listener, this was a technically secure, precise performance, but only at the start of the third movement did it really unbend to show its human face.

Here, the oboe of Veit Stolzenberger paired with the bassoon of Zeynep Heide Koyluoglu, and the flute of Britta Jacobs paired with the clarinet of Rainer Muller, in an enchantingly affectionate moment.

The second half of the concert opened with a piece also usually played on the organ. The Variations On My Young Life Has An End by the 16th-century Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck is a charmer when played with fingers. In this wind-quintet guise, it seemed little more than a clever technical exercise and was met with a rather lacklustre audience response.

The audience clearly warmed more to Alexander Zemlinsky's all-too-short Humoreske, which was rattled off with great wit and precision by the quintet.

But the biggest audience response came after the final item, a couple of movements from Richard Strauss' Suite. For this, the five Germany-based players were joined by eight students from the wind faculty of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory.

Despite the disparity of age and experience, the ensemble had a real feeling of unity, maintaining an impressive level of precision and technical mastery.

The tone had a warmth and mellowness, which had been notably lacking elsewhere in the programme and the performance exuded a strong sense of enjoyment in the communal act of making music.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 16, 2017, with the headline 'Quintet's mutual understanding shine through'. Print Edition | Subscribe