Musical high five



Christian Blackshaw (piano), Chan Yoong Han (violin), Gu Bing Jie (viola), Ng Pei Sian (cello), Yang Zheng Yi (double bass), Rachel Walker (oboe), Ma Yue (clarinet), Zhang Jin Min (bassoon), Han Chang Chou (horn)

Victoria Concert Hall/Sunday

The term "piano quintet" encompasses an almost infinite range of four instruments combined with piano. In this concert, eight members of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) joined British pianist Christian Blackshaw in two celebrated quintets, one with winds and the other with strings.

Mozart's Quintet In E Flat Major K.452 pioneered the coupling of oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon with piano.

Having a modern grand piano play with four wind instruments, each with a distinctive sound and musical compass, is a challenge. But the four SSO principal wind players have clocked countless hours playing together and Blackshaw's steady fluency made for a stress-free reading of the work. The balance between piano and winds was good and precision of playing was excellent.

Apart from a slow opening, during which each wind instrument made an introductory statement, the quintet followed the usual fast-slow-fast three-movement structure. The first was taken at a comfortable pace that allowed every instrument to sing. But this relaxed approach did not suit the next two movements, especially the final one, where the effervescence of a Mozartean rondo was missing.

Mozart was a master in writing for winds - his concertos for horn and clarinet and his chamber music for winds are important works for their respective instruments. This quintet is a perfect vehicle to show off the individuality and quirkiness of each instrument, but an excessive homogeneity in sound robbed it of some colour and sparkle.

The charm of Schubert's Piano Quintet In A Major, D.667 comes from a combination of hummable melodies, a lightness of being and irrepressible optimism. The quintet of Blackshaw on piano with violin, viola, cello and double bass players delivered on all these fronts and their efforts resulted in a resoundingly successful "Trout" Quintet.

Violinist Chan Yoong Han is, by many measures, the busiest chamber musician in the SSO. His ability to work with almost any form of classical ensemble was clear from the moment he cued the open notes of the quintet. His steady tempos and supportive leadership and Blackshaw's unwavering musicianship were outstanding.

Blending the timbres from double bass through cello and upper strings and maintaining balance with a piano is a challenge, but the five musicians managed this most admirably.

Throughout the quintet, Schubert provides irrepressible melodies to pairs of players - violin with viola, viola with cello, cello with bass, with piano ever present. These pairings were beautifully delivered.

The occasional lapses in intonation between the two lowest stringed instruments were the only blemishes in a delightful performance, one which overflowed with camaraderie.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'Musical high five'. Subscribe