15 June, 2009

Concert Review: HKPO/Lu Jia/Zhu Dan

Concert Review: HKPO/Lu Jia/Zhu Dan

June 13, 2009, CCCH
Debussy/Saint Saens/Stravinsky

This is a the first of a pair of HKPO concerts of mostly French music conducted by Lu Jia 吕嘉, who is one of my favorite guest conductors and director now of the Macao Orchestra.

Debussy's Prelude a L'Apres-midi d'un faun received a lush, but not particularly languid treatment. The orchestra played well, though I was a little surprised that there were momentary lapses in the winds here and there in passages that don't "seem" particularly difficult.

I was surpised by the performance of young violinist Zhu Dan朱丹 in Saint Saens' violin concerto no. 3. Playing on a loaned 1763 Testore violin, Zhu's tone was firm and chiselled, if not particularly beautiful, and he had generally good intonation. Only in occasional transitional passages, like some that go up-and-down the sclaes, did he sound tentative, but aren't these "little" things precisely what plague even many a more famous violinists?

The most amazing thing about Zhu was his sure hand, which arose not from just technique or determination, but from a thorough grasp of the musical structure. In openings and key moments he was not averse to sacrificing some tonal beauty for a sure attack. His accents were well placed and together with his strong but fluid phrasing served only to propell the music forward. The orchestral accompaniment was well-nigh perfect, the winds here achieving marvellous dialogue with the soloist, playing that was even better than in the opener. This was, for once, a concerto that breathed as a whole. Zhu Dan played a Schubert Erlkonig transcription for an encore. It was just too coarse for me, and Zhu broke a string and had to borrow the violin of guest concertmaster Wang Bing. As a whole, Zhu is one of the most musical Chinese violinist I have heard in a great while.

Although Stravinsky was Russian to his core, Paris/France certainly nurtured him and his music. Petroushka was premiered in Paris by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Here it was given a most vivid performance by Lu Jia who, evidently enjoying himself, was to say the least as graceful as any dancer on the podium. The performance was thoughtfully mindful of the dance, yet held together firmly. One episode just merged seamlessly into the next. The orchestra responded by playing with great relaxation and flair. The result was far from the generic, white, metronomic and brutal Stravinsky we often encounter, instead program music with great character and color. The piece had never sounded more Russian to me than in this live performance. Sad to say, the program notes did not do a commensurate job of illuminating the complicated proceedings.

For those who missed the live broadcast, the repeat shall be on 20 June (Saturday) TVB Pearl (and RTHK4) 2:20 pm

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