15 August, 2009

Concert Review: AYO/Program B/Steuermann/Bamert

Concert Review: AYO/Program B/Steuermann/Bamert

August 14, CCCH

As usual, the Asian Youth Orchestra music-making acquired much more depth with the guest conductor on the podium. Matthias Bamert had previously appeared successfully with the HKPO, long before EdW, in an era replete with excellent guest conductors who communicated the music's passion.

The concert unusually opened with the Brahms Symphony No. 4. Bamert has always had a very clear beat, which he further strengthened for the youth orchestra. The orchestra responded in no uncertain terms to his direction, sometimes even a little too determined. Under Bamert, climaxes were more assured and the strings sweeter. The performance caught all the ebb and flow of the music and was well proportioned. Although the winds cast setup (particularly oboes and clarinets) for this piece was weaker than in the second half, the big sound and passion (missing in many HKPO Brahms performances) carried the day.

After the intermission came a miraculous performance of Mozart's Pia
no Concerto No. 20 in D, surpassing even the excellent Ravel the previous night. Jean Louis Steuemann's tone was slightly more chiseled and less bronzen than the previous night. Perfectly natural phrasing and breathing informed his playing. Blissfully, the orchestra was urgent and tightly knit, a model of Mozartian style under Bamert. This was a true dialogue, a conversation between two parties, very rare in concert. Despite a very slight drop in temperature in the last movement, where Steuermann obviously relished the interplay with the (excellent) oboes, and a somewhat uncertain re-entry of the winds after the cadenza, the performance was well-nigh perfect and easily the best concerto performance of the year for both soloist and orchestra.

Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini is a piece that can easily bore with all its repetitions, but Bamert had full grasp of the tone poem and, aided by a stronger winds cast, delivered a gripping performance. Only in the biggest tutti did the orchestra lack the last bit of power, only just.

The encore was a Brahms Hungarian Dance of swelling passion, which left the recent HKPO performance under Zhang Xian buried in the dust.

I thought I had seen everything with all the microphones in HKPO performances, so I was shocked to see a 4-ft tall robotic camera right in front of the conductor. Remotely controlled, it swung and swerved its head constantly. One time it even shot straight up into the ceiling! I wonder how Bamert and the orchestra put up with this. Over-miking and cameras are obtrusive to the audience and I cannot imagine that they would bring us closer to the performance.

Note: the concert shall be simulcast on RTHK4 and TVB Pearl at 2:10 pm on Saturday, August 29.

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