21 September, 2009

Concert Review: SZSO-Weithaas-Ehwald

Concert Review: SZSO-Weithaas-Ehwald

September 17, SZ Concert Hall
Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra-All Shostakovich

I had come across Antje Weithaas (impressive biography here) several times previously in various chamber music compilations from Lars Vogt's excellent Heimbach "Spannungen" Music Festival (EMI, some available from the library; also AVI). I also admire her perfection in leading the magnificent Arcantro Quartet, whose Bartok cycle sets new standards.

I was curious how Weithaas would fare in a big concerto. And was I surprised! She gave possibly the most accurate rendition of the Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 I have ever heard live or on records. With perfect intonation and beautiful tone (playing on a modern violin), she seemed to have played more notes than I have ever heard. More importantly, she has a natural inclination for phrasing and architectural integrity. Dynamics were also perfectly graded. I think all these reflect her considerable chamber music expertise. More surprising, unlike some chamber musicians she had enough volume for this big piece, and one can see her bio above shows appearances with many prestigious orchestras. The orchestra was with her all the way. If I have any reservation about the performance, it was that in this tightly argued performance, perhaps German reserve prevented full display of the macabre. Still, what a find, and I count myself lucky to have heard her!

A similar Germanic resilience pervaded the Shostakovich Symphony No. 10, conducted masterly and symphonically by Christian Ehwald. The complete grip of architecture and non-sentimental approach reminds me of performances of the several Shoatakovich symphonies that I have heard conducted by the excellent Gunther Herbig on record (Berlin Classics; available in the library) . As in the concerto, I'd prefer a little more abandon and sardonic wit. The orchestra tried very hard, but their grasp of Shostakovich, in contrast to Brahms, was not quite that of the HKPO (in performanecs by the likes of Jaap Van Zweden and mark Elder). I eagerly look forward to the same symphony conducted by the legendary Rozdhestventsky.

The crowd was impressively quiet, and applause warm and sustained. The vista is changing fast up North.

Concert Review: HKPO-EdW-Thibaudet

Concert Review: HKPO-EdW-Thibaudet

September 11, CCCH

Many people like me secretly love the Liszt concerti (particularly No. 1) and were honed on Richter/Kondrashin's legendary accounts (I also love Tamas Vasary). Not the "highest brow", but exciting they are when given a good performance. Which was exactly what we got in the lesser heard Concerto No. 2. Thibaudet, a surprising Lisztian, proved a strong and straightforward soloist who have the chops when demanded, much more exciting than his last appearance with the HKPO. The important orchestral contribution was disciplined, fierce and tightly integrated, quite the best EdW concerto performance I've heard. So this year we have been blessed by unusually satisfying concerti performances, which include Steuermann's AYO performances. let's hope the coming Rozdhestventsky concert shall deliver the same.

The Elgar Symphony No. 2 was more or less as expected. The orchestra was pushed to its limits and coped valiantly, but it was just not an idiomatic performance. The straightforward last movement fared the best. Elsewhere, the "ebbs and flows" of the music (this is quoting the program book, and if you know Elgar you know what the annotator is talking about) felt rather mannered. There was neither "Edwardian" splendor nor a particular breathing quality that good English conductors and orchestras convey (like Mark Elder in his excellent HKPO performance of Bach/Elgar of recent memory). Instead the music hovered closer to a kind of Wagnerian world. It has to be said this masterpiece to me is one of the most difficult to bring off even on records (replete with unidiomatic performances), and I am glad to have had a chance to hear it live.

Concert opened with a well played Dvorak Carnival overture that missed the fizz in the music.

10 September, 2009

Concert Review: SZO/Mahni/Ehwald

Concert Review: SZSO/Mahni/Ehwald

SZ Concert Hall

Sometimes you have to make difficult choices. For this concert I had to forgo a dinner of rack of lamb! I was amply rewarded at the end.

Concert opened with a subtly inflected and atmospheric Lohengrin overture; the beautiful strings immediately conjured up the grail!

Sibyll Mahni, Solo Horn of the Frankfurt Opera, played the Strauss Horn Concerto No. 1 with great confidence and her sound just filled the hall. Laudable was the detailed and fluid accompaniment, no easy task given the conglomeration of style in this early Strauss.

I need not spend more words to praise the Brahms Symphony No. 1 given by Christian Ehwald. A rock-solid performance of great beauty, and every word said about the strengths of his accounts of No. 4 and No. 3 (click for my previous reviews) still holds true. Only one thing alrmed me, that the strings seemed diminished in number, 14, 11, 8, 9. 8 in this performance., and this is fewer in number than previously, something I hope is not permanent nor reflective of the orchestra's financial or recruitment deficiencies.

I am not sure whether Ehwald had done the Second Symphony before, but I sure would love to hear it to complete MY cycle!