26 November 2018

Straits Times Review - Singapore Symphony Orchestra

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra wrote to "correct" errors in a review of mine concerning their concert last Thursday.  Having been away over the weekend, I have only just returned home and accessed the review I sent to the Straits Times at 23.22 on Thursday night.  Here it is; it does not seem to be the same piece the SSO was complaining about!

Dvorak Cello Concerto

Ng Pei-Sian (cello), Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Pavel Baleff (conductor)

Esplanade Concert Hall

Thursday (22 November)

Marc Rochester

The Singapore Symphony Orchestra chose to celebrate St Cecilia’s Day (the patron saint of music) with an all-Dvorak programme.  Dvorak himself, a profoundly religious man, would doubtless have been touched by this, even if it the significance of the date seemed to have passed the SSO by.

None-the-less, there was a tangible sense of celebration and festivity about the hall, reinforced by a boisterous and excitable, if somewhat unkempt, performance of the Carnival Overture.  Possibly taken too fast for the orchestra to keep itself perfectly in step, it nevertheless provided a pleasingly rowdy opener for the capacity crowd.

 So many people at a Thursday night SSO concert might have been down to a celebration of St Cecilia, a love for Dvorak’s music or even the anticipation of a Black Friday shopping bonanza.  But probably it was the evening’s soloist who was the irresistible draw to Singaporean music lovers.

The SSO’s own star cellist, Ng Pei-Sian was clearly both inspired and deeply moved by the reception he got both from his orchestral colleagues and his large fan-base in the hall.  The result was a performance of the Cello Concerto which was seething with passion and boiling with emotional turbulence.  Ng gave it his all, rapturously bursting in with his first solo entry, caressing the gorgeous theme of the central movement like an intense lover, and joining in with gusto the dances of the finale before his moment of deep introspection which reduced him to tears, and got the audience exploding with admiration.

 It was probably just as well that Bulgarian conductor Pavel Baleff did not try to tame things or put the orchestra under any kind of restraining leash.  This was above all an emotionally-charged performance which overflowed with so much expressiveness that the rough edges were effectively smothered.

Throughout the concert, Baleff’s speeds veered rather disconcertingly from extreme to extreme.  But if nothing else, he inspired the SSO to throw off  their inhibitions to the extent that, at times, they rather left him behind as they rushed off chasing their next big moment.  This relatively hands-off approach from the conductor turned the performance of the ubiquitous New World Symphony from the potential such a popular work has for sounding routine (after all, the SSO give it an almost annual work-out) into something which had an edge-of-the-seat sense of adventure.

 Dvorak wrote the Symphony in New York and was inspired by the sights and sounds of America, all of which were  quite novel and strange to him.  It was this sense of awe-struck amazement that Baleff brought to the Symphony and, indeed, to this entire concert. Saint Cecilia might not have approved of such earthy pleasures, but everybody in the audience most certainly did.


  1. Why did they change Bulgarian conductor to Romanian? Were they misinformed? The other change was "sso's own star cellist", own has been removed.

  2. I presume "they" is the Straits Times. Bulgarian appears to be correct. And presumably the original wording indicated that NPS is a star cellist who is also in SSO, while the ST version suggests he is merely the star among SSO cellists. Of course SSO may simply have an all super-star cello section anyway.