Concert review: Cello and chamber music take centre stage


Singapore Raffles International Music Festival

The Chamber @ The Arts House/Wednesday

The inaugural Singapore Raffles International Music Festival brought together talented young musicians and teachers from Asia in four days of competition, masterclasses and concerts at The Arts House. The third evening's concert was a showcase in two parts, the first half highlighting ensemble cello playing, followed by chamber music.

Opening the evening was a guest performance by nine-year-old cellist Li Zi Yi who gave an adroit and confident account of the first movement from Saint-Saens' First Cello Concerto. How unusual it is for a musician to be so technically strong yet at a loss of words when interviewed. When asked what piece he was to perform, all he could muster was, "I forgot!" much to the amusement of the audience.

The cello ensembles that followed were spared the blushes of awkwardness. The Malaysian Cello Quartet had fun with three Malay songs and dances in excellent arrangements by Leonard Yeap - the ronggeng took on the warmth and sultriness of Latin American tangos. The Natasha Liu Studio Ensemble of eight coaxed a rich and fulsome sound in the central section of David Popper's Concert Polonaise, with their leader-mentor Liu impressively helming the solo cadenzas.

The young Sota Cello Ensemble was boosted with one more player, but was over-rushed in Schubert's First Military March, with a reading that lacked nuance or subtlety. When four teachers - Liu, So Youn Park, Song Woon Teng and Linda Kollati - came together in an arrangement Albinoni's famous Adagio in G minor, they showed how things were done, with much feeling and tenderness.

The chamber music half began with the first movement of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet from the MusicPro Camerata Kuala Lumpur. Standing out was clarinettist Chen Ya-Ching whose tone was full-bodied and phrasing amply articulated, well supported by her string colleagues, even if they briefly grappled with intonation issues.

Much welcome was a performance of Italian baroque composer Giuseppe Brescianello's Sonata in G minor on period instruments. Leading on baroque violin was none other than Alan Choo, who shared the melodic lines with Trevor Sze on baroque bassoon. The accompaniment was provided by Shawn Tan's baroque cello and Shane Thio whose harpsichord notes were simulated on electronic keyboard. The sound in its three movements, mellow yet incisive, was a breath of fresh air.

The concert closed with the dynamic duo of flautist Roberto Alvarez and harpist Katryna Tan. Young Singaporean Chen Zhangyi's Five Constellations were short and varied numbers with maximum mileage yielded from both instruments. In the final two pieces, flowing lyricism in Coma Berenices was well contrasted with the jazzy flourishes of Eridanus. The infectious Spanish rhythms of Jacques Ibert's Entr'acte gave a suitably animated and upbeat note to close the proceedings.