27 July, 2008

Concert Review: SZSO/Nichiteanu/Ehwald

Concert Review: SZSO/Nichiteanu/Ehwald

25 July, 2008, Shenzhen Concert Hall


My friend classicalkan called me last minute and I was happy to have attended the concert with him.

My first time in this venue, which is only a little more than 1 year old, I was told. I was fooled by the outward appearance (including the ticketing lobby) and the pics in their website. My high expectation was immediately deflated as soon as I entered the “grand” atrium of the hall, pictured in the website. The cheap grey “marble” flooring is aesthetically pleasing compared to the vulgar and golden pillars/totems rising from the floor, which remind me of the much classier metal ones suspended from the ceiling of the Avery Fisher Hall in New York. The staircases, outside and inside the hall, are all wood and you can imagine the noise generated by the ladies’ heels. The hall has a dark mahogany scheme. The “mahogany” wood of the stairs and panels all show an alarming degree of wear, especially at the edges.

The hall is cavernous, and alarmingly like a much larger Cultural Center Concert Hall. It is polygonal and has many more levels than ours. Unusually, it is assymetrical and you can catch this on the seating plan on the website. My cheaper seat (“Forth class” on the ticket) is difficult to access, but comfortable, and leg room is good. From so high up, the players on stage looked like ants. The light colored stage looks dirty and marked.

The Serly completion of the Bartok viola concerto was played. Marius Nichiteanu is principal of the NDR and the best violist I have ever heard. Not only did he have power and refinement, and a good instrument, his Romanian origin likely helped in adding color and a gypsy flavor to some of the passages. The orchestra played beautifully and idiomatically under Ehwald’s baton.

Given the tight Brahms I heard last week, I was a little surprised by the slightly slower tempo of Schubert’s 9th. Ehwald had the same iron grip, but unfolded the drama patiently. Unlike many recordings, this one neither drives the music hard (which this symphony can take) nor dwell on the longeurs. The architectural integrity and breath of the conducting was impressive. Equally satisfying were the details, some ominous and telling. The playing of the orchestra was on an even higher level than just the week before. I continue to be mightily impressed by the winds section. Nay, I am a fan now of them! They just produce the most harmonious blend, which the HKPO has yet to achieve. This, and the brilliant solo’s, particularly from the reed players, just helped immensely. Only in the last movement did the players start to tire and the energy dropped a bit. They deserved the big ovation they got.

The audience was reasonably well behaved. My friend sat in another section, an aisle seat and he reported that people were just coming and going at will, distracting. It seems management here is not that tight. Avoid aisle seats!

Last, the sound, which is gratifyingly clear and warm, a grace which this monstrosity needs.