by Cheng Xinhui
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) began the evening at Victoria Concert Hall with Stravinsky’s exuberant Danses Concertantes under the baton of their Music Director Lan Shui. The captivating dance, which is in a condensed five-movement form, enthralled the audience with its rhythmic thrusts and constantly changing metres. Clarinettist Ma Yue, flutist Evgueni Brokmiller and oboist Rachel Walker provided colourful contrast with their expressive and lyrical solos, and Cultural Medallion awardee and concert mistress Lynette Seah led the strings admirably with the rhythmic complexity of the music.
The highlight of the evening was certainly American composer Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, with SSO’s newly appointed concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich on the solo violin. One of the greatest American violin concertos, the first movement opened with a noble and lyrical melody on the solo violin which teased the audience with its unpredictable tonality through some twenty-four bars, before settling on the home key of G major. Such was Barber’s distinctive style as he pushed the envelope of the classical tradition of Mozart and Beethoven as a ‘transitory composer’, but not quite yet in the avant-garde movement with Sibelius and Stravinsky.
A second folk dance-like theme was introduced by the woodwinds, and this was later unsettlingly transformed into different keys by the orchestra and solo violin before returning to the home key. The second movement, Andante, began with a soulful oboe solo, played by Rachel Walker. Again, Barber surprises when the violin solo entered with a different theme, only returning to the original theme late into the piece. Yuzefovich’s sensitive playing weaved seamlessly in and out of the orchestra with impeccable musicianship as he demonstrated the full emotional depth of the music. The finale, written in moto perpetuo form, saw Yuzefovich’s virtuosity in full display as he negotiated the unrelenting and technically-demanding passages with ease and confidence. After a short respite in the middle of the piece which allowed the audience to catch their breath, the solo violin returned, rather unbelievably, even faster than before, and Yuzefovich and the SSO quickly built the music up to its frenzied and triumphant finale before ending to the well-deserved shouts of “Bravo!” from the audience.
The final piece of the evening was Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D major ‘Prague’. The first movement opened with a slow and majestic introduction and later transitioned into a dance-like motif, which was littered with musical material from Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute. The second movement was characterised by contrasting moods, which were embellished by lively solos from the woodwinds. The boisterous finale, where Mozart added quotes from The Marriage of Figaro to delight his bohemian audience, provided a satisfactory and fitting end to the concert.