Let’s Tango! Music for Valentine’s Day

SingaporeSingapore Tchaikovsky, Piazzolla, Moyer, VCH Chamber Series: Valentine’s Day Concert: Souvenir de Florence, Victoria Concert Hall, Singapore, 14.02.2015 (RP)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70
Astor Piazzolla: History of Tango
Mike Moyer: Sonata Latino


Members of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and guest musicians offered a musical bouquet for Valentine’s Day at the Victoria Concert Hall. Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence may have inspired the title of the concert, but in reality its soul was in the Americas, not Europe. The Russian composer’s Tuscan-inspired sextet paled somewhat in comparison to the Latin beat of the tangos, rhumbas and salsas which followed.

 That is not to say that the six SSO string players did not provide a stylish account of the Tchaikovsky. Violinist Chan Yong-Han and cellist Yu Jing played with rich tone in the second movement’s extended duet. Tchaikovsky used a cascading motif at various places in the sextet that descended from the violins to the cellos. It was crystal clear in its execution, with a grace and precision that made each rendition magical.

 Astor Piazzolla, a 20th-century Argentinian composer, devoted his energies to promoting the tango. Jin Ta, the SSO’s Principal Flautist, and Kevin Loh, a Singaporean guitar prodigy now in his late teens, joined in the composer’s History of the Tango, composed in 1986. In a word, their performance was beautiful. Jin Ta’s playing was lyrical and soulful, especially in the second movement entitled Café 1930. Kevin Loh plays with a sophistication and ease that belies his years. I can imagine more dramatic performances of this work, but this one left its mark for impeccable musicianship and sheer beauty.

 Staying in the Latin mode, Jin Ta returned with a pick-up salsa band for Mike Mower’s Sonata Latino. Mower, born in 1958, is an English saxophonist and composer. The extended duet between Jin Ta and pianist Liu Jia was the core of the piece and they performed it with flare. The salsa band is under utilized in the work, but the three brass players from the SSO performed with gusto. Their blazing interjections were the aural equivalent of flashes of white light. Evgueni Brokmiller, the SOO’s Associate Principal Flute, led the band competently, but one yearned for a Desi Arnaz, Xavier Cugat or one of their 21st-century equivalents. Those men had tangos, rumbas and salsas in their blood. It is more than keeping time, it’s in the moves.

 There was an encore. Jin Ta returned on stage with guitarist Kevin Loh, bass guitarist Wang Xu and pianist Liu Jia. Jin Ta told the audience that he was a Michael Jackson fan and as an encore they would play his arrangement of Love Never Felt So Good. The song was the first single released from Jackson’s second posthumous album, Xscape, a reworked demo track composed by Jackson and Paul Anka in 1983. Jin Ta did double duty, switching from flute to piano for an extended solo. He and Liu Jian timed it perfectly, so that not a beat was missed. Liu Jian, in a deep red dress appropriate for the day, gamely became part of rhythm section. It was a classy end to a classy Valentine’s Day musical afternoon.

 Rick Perdian