A mixed bag of ensemble players



Victoria Concert Hall

Last Friday

The first concert in this season's SSO Chamber series featured the work of two composers, performed by three different ensembles comprising a total of 11 players.

If a prize was to be awarded for the best dressed ensemble, the string quartet of Ye Lin, Xu Jue Yi, Gu Bing Jie and Guo Hao would have won hands down.

They appeared on stage a shimmering vision of elegance and colour, and provided far and away the finest visual feast of the evening.

Aurally, however, it was a very different story.

Schubert's Five Minuets And Six Trios is, at best, a lightweight adolescent exercise.

Any charm it might possess was lost in a performance where tuning and ensemble were never convincing, and in which each of the four players strove to put rather more passion and individuality into their respective parts than this superficial music could hope to withstand.

Chikako Sasaki, Karen Tan, Wang Dandan and Wang Zihao had agreed on a black and white theme for their outfits, but had not gone much further than that.

It is probably worth suggesting that if some of these players might be thinking of wearing such tight trousers again on stage, they might do well to re-think - from the vantage point of the auditorium stalls, this was not particularly nice visually.

Aurally, things were not significantly nicer.

Their performance of Schubert's String Quartet No. 13 in A minor felt more as if it was going through the motions than digging into its emotional depths.

By the time they reached the final movement, the group seemed to have started working a little more closely together and were aiming towards a unified and coherent account, but the performance never shook off a feeling that it was more a basic play-through than a well-considered collective interpretation of one of the greats of the string quartet repertory.

Changes of personnel and composer were not the most significant differences that came over the concert in the second half.

Suddenly the music-making became authoritative, convincing and, above all, absorbing.

Clarinettist Ma Yue expounded eloquently through the Brahms Clarinet Trio while cellist Wang Yan balanced this with playing of exceptional beauty and a tone to die for.

Holding it all together was the unobtrusive but unfailingly responsive piano of Liu Jia whose very presence lent great distinction to this perceptive performance.

Musically, this was such an intense, commanding and wholly absorbing performance that its sartorial elements escaped notice. Which is, of course, just as it should be.

When the playing is as good as this, nothing else really matters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2018, with the headline 'A mixed bag of ensemble players'. Subscribe