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Thursday, January 24, 2008

"I get a lot of cracks about my hair, mostly from men who don't have any." - Ann Richards


by NUS Symphony Orchestra Chamber Groups

Away Without Leave, Bob Becker (Drum Medley)
Suite Popular Brasileira, Ney Rosauro: i) Baião, ii) Maracatu (Percussion Ensemble)
Thank God, I'm A Country Boy, John Denver, arr. John Martin Sommers (Percussion Ensemble)
String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111, Johannes Brahms: I - Allegro ma non troppo
String Quartet No. 12 in F, Op. 96, "American", Antonin Dvořák: I - Allegro ma non troppo
Andante et Rondo for two flutes and piano, Op. 25, Franz Doppler
Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Cello and Piano, H. 315, Bohuslav Martinů: I - Moderato poco allegro

Por Una Cabeza, Carlos Gardel, arr. Matthew Naughtin (String Quintet)
Promenade, George Gershwin (Woodwind Quintet)
Marche, Arabian Dance and Russian Dance from "The Nutcracker", Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Woodwind Quintet)
Blues-Style, Tony Osborne (Double Bass Trio)
Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, K. 364, W. A. Mozart: II - Andante, III - Presto

The empty toilet beside the UCC theatre seems to be the airconditioned place that comes closest to replicating a temperate climate. I wasn't sure why this was - perhaps it was the humidity or the scent, or maybe just the still air. Actually the aircon in UCC in general is atypical.

Outside the theatre there was a sign saying that flash photography and videography were not permitted; this was the first UCC performing event I'd seen which allowed non-flash photography. Yet, they were schizophrenic, since before the concert we were told there was to be no photography (and just before the second half they contradicted themselves by announcing over the PA system that flash photography was not allowed).

As you can see, the programme was varied, with untuned, Latin, Pop/Country, Romantic, Classical, Neo-classical (Martinů), Tango and Jazz. 20th century (happily) and Baroque (not so) were not represented.

The MC was just adequate, since he mostly read for the programme. While the stage crew set things up, he could've told us about the genre of the Sinfonia Concertante, or some Jazz conventions, but he just left us hanging and waiting for the stuff to be set up.

The Becker was interesting, if a bit draggy. It requires a lot of skill to make music made with purely untuned instruments interesting, and the piece was too long and repetitive, even with competent drummers. The Rosauro was tuned and thus more colourful: though the Baião was a bit blah, the Maracatu was more interesting, but the violinist in the latter could not be heard over the percussion.

The Denver piece was cut unexplainedly, so we then proceeded to the more conventional part of the performance.

The Brahms started off weak and squeaky. It improved a little, but soon plummeted to new depths. Throughout, I kept hearing weird noises (as if not everyone was tuned to the same key [it didn't help that they didn't tune themselves before playing] - the effect was what [I imagined] a damanged LP sounded like). The violins were really bad (not having enough resin, among other things), the violas were okay and the cello was not bad, but that could not rescue the performance, which was painful to sit through. They didn't work well together, either, sounding like 5 players lumped together rather than a quintet.

The Dvořák, in contrast, was quite good. For one, they actually tuned themselves before starting (as did most of the following ensembles). The sound was much tighter and more intimate (despite only having one less player than the previous group). Even though the Brahms was probably a nicer piece than the Dvořák, in performance the latter sounded much better (though the first violin squeaked a bit - resin resin resin!).

The Doppler was quite good, displaying good rapport, though the first flute didn't have very good control, leaking air at the loud bits (the second flute was good though).

There was a PRC (naturally) couple beside me who kept talking and it was very irritating. I had to ask them to shut up.

The last piece before the intermission was the Martinů. It sounded quite strange - Neoclassicism may draw on some of the forms of the Classical period, but it does not share the same aesthetic sense; the themes and harmonization sound very much worse (The Music Chamber - Neoclassicism - "It combined musical elements from the Classical Period with the newer trends that were emerging early in the twentieth century. These classical elements included tonal centers, clarity of form, and melodic shape. To these (and many other) classical elements, neoclassicists added such modern flavorings such as quirky rhythms, spiky dissonances, and large amounts of chromaticism.") Despite the performers, the first theme was strange, though the second was alright - bad playing can ruin good music, but good playing cannot rescue bad music.

After the intermission, we had the Gardel. The "sultry tune from the violins" sounded anorexic and unsure, while the "ferocious, staple Spanish flamenco passion" it was supposed to morph into sounded like a group of drunks. Considering it was a tango, the players lacked intensity. Then again, it was hard to top the Brahms in the tearing of tunics, beating of breasts, pulling of hair, gnashing of teeth.

The Gershwin sounded messy, but it's Jazz so it was alright (good, even). However, the French Horn unfortunately met my expectations for it. The Tchaikovsky was awkward: the March lacked rhythm and was timid and loose, and the flourishes at the end of each phrase were especially limp, the Arabian dance, didn't sound mysterious and the Trepak lacked energy.

(PaRaDoX on why the Horn is so hard to play: "because it's got a small embrouchure
and u gotta force the air thru the miles of tubes, which u dun have to with the trumpet")

The Osborne was a rare piece only for double basses. It was a bit dull, but that was probably because of the range of the instrument. There was a double bass duet following (not listed on the program), and it was a bit flat (perhaps in more than one way).

Last was the Mozart. During the Andante, the soloists were okay (though they were better playing individually or alternately than in concert), but the orchestra was a bit dead (and no, that's not a good thing even though it was written to commemoriate his dead mother) and plodded at times. There weren't many brass parts, but they managed to be flubbed. Both soloists and orchestra were better in the Presto (they seemed better at vivacity than moroseness), though the horns acted up again and the oboes were a bit off also.
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