Summer solstice and Arctic winters

Janine Jansen and Daniel Blendulf.
Janine Jansen and Daniel Blendulf.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO



Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall/Thursday

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) gala concert that showcased Dutch violinist Janine Jansen carried in its publicity materials the adjectives "Golden, Delicate, Ethereal", as if these would add to the allure of her Singapore debut.

These words also applied to the evening's first soloist, SSO associate principal cor anglais Elaine Yeo, the heart and soul of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius' short tone poem The Swan Of Tuonela (Tuonela is the realm of the dead in Finnish mythology). Hers was the most mournful of solos, first answered by Ng Pei-Sian's cello counter-melody, then gliding over a calm lake of muted strings and soft drum rolls. Starkly beautiful, the timelessness of a mythical landscape was evoked.

A large part of its success was owed to the subtle yet decisive direction of young Swedish conductor Daniel Blendulf, who reprised the same in Sibelius' evergreen Violin Concerto In D Minor, which starred his wife Jansen. Their partnership was not a contest of strong wills, but a dramatic masterclass on how an orchestra supports a soloist to the ultimate triumph of music.

For her part, Jansen has to be the most commanding and charismatic of violin soloists since Germany's Anne-Sophie Mutter. From the concerto's quiet, flickering opening, she ran the gauntlet of dynamic extremes with a frightening intensity, maintaining an incisive tone with perfect intonation throughout.

Try as one may, there was no alternative to sitting on the edge of one's seat with this kind of playing. Her pianissimos in the outer reaches of the first-movement cadenzas and slow movement were crystal clear and, within seconds, would expand into shuddering climaxes.

The audience held its breath through the relentless drive in the finale's Polonaise For Polar Bears and there was no letting up until the last cadential outburst. Prolonged applause and bravos were greeted with an encore of perfect temperance, Sarabande from J.S. Bach's Partita No. 2.

If the Sibelius relived Arctic mid-winters, Blendulf summoned a Bohemian summer solstice for Dvorak's convivial Eighth Symphony In G Major. The sheer warmth it radiated from the opening bars, aided by Jin Ta's smiling flute solo, would have made both orchestra and listeners relax, but there were to be several stings in the tail.

Respite without vigour and vehemence as contrasts is pointless and this performance brought the two opposites cheek by jowl as to make both viewpoints feel equally vital. The slow movement's rusticity and ensuing waltz of the third movement sounded all the more special on this count.

As trumpets rang out the fanfare heralding the finale, the scene was set for one last celebratory hurrah, which closed with more vocal outbursts of acclaim. Gala concerts are supposed to end this way.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2017, with the headline 'Summer solstice and Arctic winters'. Print Edition | Subscribe