06 August, 2008

Asian Youth Orchestra/Weilerstein/Pontzious

6 August, 2008
Asian Youth Orchestra/Weilerstein/Pontzious

It was nice to hear again the AYO, an an old friend. The typhoon waned just in time for me to get to the CCCH. Four friends joined me for the concert. Two of them got the LAST 2 tickets, but when we went in, we found a half empty hall.

It was really nice to have heard Barber's Second Essay, richly colored and atmospheric, sometimes a little like a film score.

This is my second encounter with Alisa Weilerstein in the same concerto! Of her NYPO performance 2 years ago (in NYC) I wrote before:

"...The audience was out in full force, no doubt to catch a glimpse of the young cellist Alicia Weilerstein in the Elgar cello concerto. She came out in a pink dress and played magnificently. Wasn't DuPre frequently dressed in pink? Her tone was hugh and beautiful, though sometimes just a bit off-center. She was tempestuous and took chances, and that was good. Perhaps a bit more pathos would not be wanting but too much to ask. The Elgar seems to be in vogue and this cellist's playing was superior to the others heard recently. Zubin Mehta accompanied most tightly but one wished for some tenderness. An English Elgar this was not..."

In comparison, last night's performance was somewhat of a let down. Tempo was debilitatingly slow. This brought out many moments of pathos and reflection, and the murmuring of the cello amid the beautiful pianissimo playing of the violins was quite a marvel.
Weilerstein's playing was more nuanced and quite different from before. She is playing this on tour with the AYO and surely trying out different things. She remains a spontaneous player and that's all to the good. A widened dynamic range, sometimes going from a strong attack immediately to a whisper, proved a difficult blend with the orchestra, which was suppressed too much by Pontzious, and the overall flow was quite distorted. Nonetheless, just as before, I admire her romantic abandon and spontaneity. And her lightning fast attacks, strong phrasing and accenting constitute the kind of playing I like to hear in the cello, which can just sound too flaccid too often. For an encore she played a movement of solo Bach, in her fearlessly unrepentingly romantic way. While it made me uneasy, this is one player to watch.

Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet excerpts showcased the orchestra's proficiency as well as its deficiencies. Overall the playing lacked the cogency of the Barber. There is no question the players have heart in spades, and this yielded many nicely characterized moments. The strings were marvelous in pianissimi, but just slightly less penetrating in fortissimi than their professional counterparts. The winds were surprisingly well blended and a joy to hear. The sometimes perilous playing of the horns had good tone. The brass, especially the low brass, was generally weak and louder passages were frequently not well supported, robbing crescendoes of heft, despite the valiant attempts of the generally good percussion section (weaker cymbal player). Part of this may be due to the conductor, who is a straight shooter. This time he got more color and tidiness out of the orchestra than his effort last year, but some roughness and seams were still showing. Last year the guest conductor Okko Kamu totally transformed the orchestra and I hope this year's James Judd can do the same. I still fondly remember the complete ballet given by the HKPO under guest conductor Richard Bernas in Shatin 。

As usual, the best was saved for last. The encore, the "Galop" from Kabalevsky's "The Comedians" was virtuosic and rousing.

The concert shall be simulcasted
on ATV World Channel and RTHK4 on 24 August at 1:55 pm.

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