GALA CONCERT / Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Orchestra / Review




GALA CONCERT
Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Orchestra
Lee Foundation Theatre
Tuesday (27 March 2012)


This review was published in The Straits Times on 29 March 2012 with the title "Glorious finale for new director".


As the cliché goes, a new broom sweeps clean. Never has this been more apt in the case of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) Orchestra under its new Music Director Lim Yau, recently appointed in January. His first concert promises to bring about a renaissance in the student orchestral scene downtown.

Also led by Lim, the NAFA Chorus, numbering healthily over 130 singers, was roped in for the opening work, Constant Lambert’s The Rio Grande (below). The curious love child of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia and Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue, it gave the proceedings a decidedly edgy start. Young Malaysian pianist Lim Dao Sheng was a most convincing soloist, revelling in its tricky syncopations and virtuosic riffs.




True to form, any Lim-directed choir would be well-disciplined, and precise in its entries and diction. Despite their motley appearance in street clothes, the voices produced a uniformly even sound, sensitive to shifts in dynamics even when occasionally drowned by the excitable brass. All’s the pity about the alto solo at the end, whose English was all but indecipherable.

Not to be outdone on the keyboard was Chinese freshman Lin Jiaxin (below), with a diminutive frame that belied power and projection needed for Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto. Hers was a totally confident showing, mixing agility for the filigreed bits with an outsized octave technique. Steady as a rock, she was one with the ensemble throughout, which made for many thrilling pages.




The jewel in the crown was the performance of Brahms’s Second Symphony, a second reading of the work to be heard within six days. Compared with last week’s Singapore Symphony run under Gennady Rozhdestvensky, this one was more idiomatic and perhaps more sincere. Lim’s approach allowed the music to flow more naturally, and the result was a full ten minutes swifter.

Any rawness in sound – common to all young ensembles - could not disguise overall commitment. The slow movement refused to meander, and dark clouds were soon dispersed to reveal sunshine outright. The chirpy third movement had fine oboist Vladyslav Shevchenko to thank, and it was the finale that brought the house down.

Any earlier diffidence had evaporated completely, as the forces came unerringly together for a glorious close. Was this a different orchestra from the past? No, it’s just the sound of the perceived gap between Academy and Conservatory rapidly closing.