Concert review: Philharmonic Orchestra's bright performance dampened by acoustics

The Philharmonic Orchestra's Beethoven cycle.



The Philharmonic Orchestra, Lim Yau (conductor)

Singapore Chinese Cultural Association Auditorium/Last Saturday

Midway through its Beethoven cycle, The Philharmonic Orchestra brought together his two most happy and bright symphonies.

Bright was certainly the word.

Singapore's newest concert venue has an acoustic which is so bright and which cuts the air with such a brittle edge that it would be the envy of any self-respecting bladesmith. It also boasts an echo many a mediaeval cathedral would be proud of - which is strange since the flat stage is encased by thick curtains and plays out to an expanse of carpet.

Whatever electronic gadgetry is at work here, someone would do well to tone it down - it makes for an unsettling listening experience.

The Pastoral Symphony may not be Beethoven's most famous, but with its wealth of wonderful tunes and enchanting imitations of nature, it is his most popular. The unusually placid audience, which filled a goodly proportion of this 900-seat auditorium, would not have been disappointed with this performance.

It was bursting with vitality. The orchestra was playing at the very top of its game and Lim Yau drove it forward with tireless energy.

He was possibly rather too pedantic in marking the phrases and emphasising the dynamics, but his cracking speeds ensured it never got bogged down in the detail.

This was, however, a Singaporean view of the countryside - more Clementi Woods than Austrian forests. There was not a tree out of place, not a blade of grass taller than the others. Even the woodwind cadenzas of the second movement saw a trio of musical birds brought down from the branches, where they usually perch beside their colleagues, and thrust into the bright sun near the front of the stage where they could ruffle no feathers.

This was a countryside of shining glass and unyielding steel, although a vivid storm, crashing across the orchestra from the hard-edged timpani to the avenue of double basses lined up opposite, struck a familiar chord.

The short, witty Eighth Symphony was Beethoven's personal favourite. Here, Lim brushed much of the humour aside as he careered through its four movements. With the last movement, his speed was just too much for the orchestra, who clearly fought hard to keep it all together.

But elsewhere, there were plenty of bright spots, including some glorious horn-playing in the third movement and a wonderfully incisive violin line in the first.

The aggressive edge from the timpani at the start was more a consequence of the auditorium's weird acoustic than the timpanist's sticks. Fortunately, the next instalment of the orchestra's Beethoven cycle - on Oct 15 - moves to the warmer acoustic of the Victoria Concert Hall.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2017, with the headline 'Bright performance dampened by acoustics'. Print Edition | Subscribe