Monday, January 26, 2015

BHSO's 'Joy' in Review - 25 Jan 2015

Beethoven - 9th Symphony
Jeremy Monteiro - Overture in C – The Story of Singapore

Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra (BHSO)
The Joy Chorale

Soloists - Wendy Evangela Woon Mei-Yu - soprano,
            Cheryl Bains - alto
            Raymond Lee Pei-Khoon - tenor
            Kong Ling-Yi - bass

chorus mistress - Khor Ai-Ming
director - Adrian Tan
The Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore

A review by Hawk Liu

The sold-out concert began with Overture in C – "The Story of Singapore, composed by Cultural Medallion recipient and local jazz legend Jeremy Monteiro. The overture tells the story of Singapore’s transformation from a sleepy fishing village to the modern city that it is today." - that was the program note. Monteiro's one and only orchestral composition, albeit a short one, was concise and featured the brass prominently, including 2 off stage ones. The overture got busy from the first notes and the orchestra dd it justice, notwithstanding a couple of false notes here and there.  Monteiro made a stage appearance after the overture. The applause was warm and well deserved.

Beethoven’s Symphony was preceded by an inspiring account of how a whole section of the chorus was trained from scratch as novice musicians to sing in this monumental work. Adrian Tan encouraged aspiring musicians to take up the challenge of being involved musically for a year end concert with the orchestra...any takers?

The symphony had a slow start in the first few minutes but soon launched into full swing after that. However, some of the entries of motives were lost in the general orchestral texture. In the 2nd movement Adrian Tan did a great job to keep the unrelenting rhythm tight. The slower 3rd movement did not let off the energy - I felt a strong hint of Mozart in the overall lyricism. The general orchestral sound was rich and bold and the balance was good - except for the 1st violins in pianissimo passages. 

Throughout the symphony at soft entries, the 1st violins tend to be especially low on intensity that it feels like someone took out their batteries but kep the rest of the orchestra going. The 1st violin section was only kept alive by the principal player who played with high energy throughout. Sad to say, most (not all) of the rest of the section did not put on much pressure with their bows. Fortunately, the 1st violin balance much better in the louder passages.

The much anticipated choral movement was well handled by the chorus, considering Beethoven wrote it as a shouting match for singers from beginning to finish (oops! my own words...) The choral balance was really good and the high voices never shrill. The director kept the orchestra to a reasonable balance with the chorus, except for the very last section where percussions ran wild on decibels. The generally petite soloists gave a very secure performance. Both male soloists gave a decent show of their solos. Unfortunately the females were not featured prominently in the work. For an amateur orchestra that comprised working adults, the sound was good and tight although there were the occasional wrong note entries and fast articulations that didn't come together in a number of places throughout the symphony. The woodwinds featured strongly in the work and held together very well. The audience gave a long applause for a rousing performance.

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