03 July, 2009

Concert Review: HKPO/Zhang/Mullova

Concert Review: HKPO/Zhang/Mullova

July 3, 2009, CCCH
HKPO/Zhang Xian/Viktoria Mullova Brahms/Bartok

Star power + Brahms violin concerto = Good attendance. That never fails.

The 3 Hungarian Dances that opened the program were rather brute and driven for my taste. These are dances, not marches!

The Brahms violin concerto was a curious affair. Viktoria Mullova, always the cool soloist and whose face and body betray little inner emotion, had appeared in HK many times and needs little intorduction. Taken for granted is her superb, almost super-human technique (a few fluffs notwithstanding). What assurance and control of her instrument even in the most difficult passages; effortless attack right on the note and what double-stops! As expected though, she delivered a rather "objective" rendition. The first movement cadenza was really neat but almost deliberately shorn of display, making it much less of a rallying force. The slow movement was perhaps the finest of the three, with Mullova sounding smaller in the last movement's faster passages. Although Zhang accompanied dutifully and the orchestra played well, somehow as a whole the heaves and sighs of Brahms did not come through. Mullova played a little bit of solo Bach as encore, and splendidly. From one so attuned to period practice, I was surprised that she delivered the movement in a rather free and vocal style. Behind the impeccable line the contrapuntal elements were superbly telling, the dialogues pregnant with meaning. It was spellbinding. One wonders what strings and bows she were using. It's known on her recordings she uses gut strings.

The orchestra transformed itself in Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, which was played for all its worth. The solo's were very good, and Zhang held a tight rein. There was plenty of color and verve on the way to a rousing finale. Although a little more tenderness and gravitas here and there would not have been amiss, I was quite satisfied.

After the concert, several of us had a long discussion on Mullova and Brahms. Most illuminating.

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