30 August, 2009

Concert Review: Sinfonietta/Vassiljeva/Vassilieva/Tuggle

Concert Review: Sinfonietta/Vassiljeva/Tuggle

29/08/09, CH

These two excellent artists richly deserved all the applause they received from the nearly full-house (including the balcony).

Concert opened with Arvo Part's elegiac Cantus In Memory of Benjamin Britten. The combination of strings and chime was hauntingly beautiful, marred only by unquenced noise from the audience.

James Tuggle, an experienced opera and ballet conductor, proved his mettle in a gripping performance of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony. Although the winds were struggling a bit at the start, it was clear Tuggle had full command and he steadily negotiated his way. Despite the small size of the Sinfonietta, the performance was big-boned and dramatic, yet mindful of details and counterpoint. Dynamics were well graded and climaxes blazing, even acerbic at times (as good Beethoven should be). The allegretto was elegant and hushed, hinting at tragedy but with emotions reined-in. I like it that way, but some may prefer a more expansive treatment. The scherzo was delivered at quite a fast tempo, yet the players did not seem pressed as things unfolded naturally. Tuggle did not overtly emphasize the dance elements but one could feel the spring in his steps. The concluding Allegro was certainly con brio, bringly the symphony to a triumphant conclusion, and to wild applause. Here I remember the urgent Beethoven conducted by the excellent Li Xin Cao some years ago, though this performance is likely even better.

The Sinfonietta is as usual in a state of flux. In this economic downturn, it seems corporate sponsorship is down, and alarmingly one of the major sponsors this season is an individual from the board. The roster shows many changes since I last heard them (quite a while ago). The concertmaster post is vacant and the guest William Pu, from the Atlanta SO, performed steadily. More than usual, the concert had twelve "free-lance" musicians (including two from HKPO) which means fewer musicians are on full-time pay. The post of Principal Oboe is vacant, and the guest was Michael Wilson from the HKPO. As usual I am not enamored of his tone (I like Ruth Bull more), but in fast passages I could appreciate his steadiness. There were two big surprises. Although First Flute Weng Si-bei's tone is not the most mellifluous, she obviously is an excellent player who (more than Wilson) displayed great leadership during shaky ensembles (as Andrew Simon recently did for HKPO in French works) . Surprisingly confident too was the Principal Clarinet Johnny Fong Hiu-Kai. a good find. I only wish the horns and bassoons could be a little better. Again, one has to praise the strings, expressive and surprisingly penetrating in big moments, lending a feeling of the Elysian to the climaxes in the Beethoven.

Unusually, the Dvorak Cello Concerto came after intermission. From the start it was clear Tatjiana Vassiljeva is a real diva. With impeccable technique, she delivered a refined, richly nuanced and fastidiously detailed account. I was sitting in the balcony and she had enough volume for this big concerto. As usual the lower notes were somewhat lean in the balcony. Tuggle accompanied sensitively, though the orchestra's playing was below the excellent level they achieved in the last three movements of the Beethoven. Not particularly earthy ("masculine") and more "symphonic" in concept, the interpretation remained enticing . There were two encores, both movements from Bach's solo suites. These were broad in conception and played sensitively and immaculately.

This concert will be (1) broadcast on RTHK4 on Saturday, September 12th at 8:00 pm and; simulcast on RTHK4 and TVB Pearl on Saturday, September 19th, at 2:35 pm.

1 comment:

  1. Hi John,

    I think it was a good performance and Tatjiana Vassiljeva' cello have the volume which is important! Just a minor thing: James Tuggle conduct the team too fast and rush. In some point I find the celloist need to rush in to match with the music. Overall an enjoyable performance