Having fun with eclectic works

The programme notes made no attempt to forge a coherent link between the works and the only thing which really held them together was the towering figure of Michal Nesterowicz.
The programme notes made no attempt to forge a coherent link between the works and the only thing which really held them together was the towering figure of Michal Nesterowicz.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

REVIEW / CONCERT

RADIANCE AND SPARK

Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Michal Nesterowicz (conductor)

Esplanade Concert Hall

Last Friday


The distinct impression here was of four works rescued from the cutting-room floor of various programme planning meetings and thrown together in random order to create a concert.

Certainly, the programme notes made no attempt to forge a coherent link between the works and the only thing which really held them together was the towering figure of Michal Nesterowicz. He stands as probably the tallest conductor on the international circuit, dwarfing even the lanky figure of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's (SSO) own concertmaster, Igor Yuzefovich.

The concert opener was Orawa by Polish composer Wojciech Kilar. Best described as a minimalist peasant dance - complete with a communal shout at the end - this was not only the most entertaining work of the concert, but Nesterowicz also ensured, from his vantage point high above the players, that his fellow countryman's music got the best performance of the evening.

With Yuzefovich at their head, the SSO strings were nothing short of astounding, giving a riveting display of collective virtuosity.

Four SSO hornists representing four different nationalities and four very different body shapes crowded on to the front of the stage bearing four French horns which ran the full gamut of polished brass lustre. Johannes Dengler, Marc-Antoine Robillard, Gao Jian and Jamie Hersch were thrust into the spotlight to perform Schumann's Konzertstuck for four horns.

They had an absolute ball, bursting with vitality in the exuberant outer movements and showing real intimacy in the central one. It was amazing how well they kept the musical ball in the air as it passed with unfailing precision between them.

Unfortunately, their orchestral colleagues, perhaps disconcerted by the first violins being banished to huddle at the edge of the stage, showed less team spirit. They were often decidedly ragged around the edges.

Kelly Tang's two Symphonic Dances, Radiance and Spark, were written for the Esplanade's 10th anniversary and were appropriately festive.

Somewhat middle-of-the-road and sounding very much like the score of one of those feel-good movies put out around Christmastime, the distinguishing feature was Tang's intelligently perceptive handling of orchestral colour. Here was a performance which conveyed that aspect to great effect.

Tacked on to the end of the concert and appearing much like a Disney princess turning up at a Singapore wet market towards the end of the trading day was Mozart's Prague Symphony.

The SSO is not one of the world's great Mozart orchestras and, perhaps aware of this, Nesterowicz played to its strengths, drawing up from the violins a sumptuously sugar-coated tone which wafted deliciously around the neatly placed and unforced playing of the rest of the orchestra.

A disappointingly large number of younger audience members decided to leave before the Mozart. This was a shame since they missed a real, if somewhat incongruous, treat.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2018, with the headline 'Having fun with eclectic works'. Print Edition | Subscribe