Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Shui Lan (conductor), Gil Shaham (violin)
Esplanade Concert Hall
Just four days into 2014, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra opened its series of concerts marking the 150th birth anniversary of Richard Strauss, in a programme spanning late 19th century to 2013 that would be challenging for any orchestra returning from December break.
Alban Berg's Lyric Suite is a six movement work for string quartet, secretly dedicated to the wife of a successful industrialist, and Berg orchestrated three of the movements for string orchestra. Written in his teacher Arnold Shoenberg's 12-tone technique, the three movements give no quarters to weaknesses in string technique or interpretation.
Conductor Shui Lan had prepared well, and the strings were well up to the challenge. Between the lyrical and emotionally charged outer movements was a restless scherzo, employing a range of string effects evoking the impression of myriad swarms of flying insects which provided welcome contrast. The violins shone with well-prepared phrasing and characterisation. In contrast, the violas sounded bland and half-hearted in interpretation.
Bright Sheng's Concerto For Violin And Orchestra, Let Fly, was co-commissioned by the Detroit, London BBC and Singapore Symphony Orchestras, with Israeli-American violinist Gil Shaham performing all the premieres. The three main movements of the concerto are performed without breaks, and the mode of composition sees most of the orchestra largely alternating with, rather than accompanying, the soloist.
The solo lines are largely along Han Chinese and other Chinese folk lines, providing Shaham freedom to impress his style on Sheng's writing, especially in the cadenza between the second and third movements. The orchestral tuttis were a mixed bag though, sometimes sounding more at home in a gladiator movie than with Shaham.