24 October, 2009

Concert Review: HKPO-Rozhdestvensky

Concert Review: HKPO-Rozhdestvensky

October 24, 2009, CCCH
Sasha Rozhdestvensky, violinist

Yet another HK surprise. Years ago, I was ecstatic to have caught up with the legendary Sviatoslav Richter, who had an aversion to America. That was truly a once-in-a-lifetime concert. This time I am very happy to have finally heard 78 year old Gennadi Rozdhestvensky, who is now also legendary. He must have appeared in NYC before but I had never heard him. Rozhdestvensky is very well known in the UK since early days, as chronicled in his bio and evidenced by the many BBC Legends issues of his live recordings (many available in the library). His appearances in the US was and is more sporadic. A wikipedia entry revealed some unfortunate unpleasantries with the BSO.

From the orchestral introduction to the Beethoven Violin Concerto, it was immediately apparent we're listening to a true master and not an also-run. A fragile figure, doing without the podium (apparently customary), with minimal but clear motions, and slow tempi that would have been deadly in lesser hands, Gennadi Rozhestvensky drew noble sonorities and superbly concentrated playing from the orchestra. The sound was golden, full and supple, yet louder and more powerful when released. Crescendos had a natural quality and pianissmos palpable.Unlike over-rated lesser conductors who only know to drive hard and push the orchestra to frantic and edgy delivery, the master achieved precision and delivered power effortlessly.

That said, the slow tempi were not for everyone. Clocking in a shade under an hour, one had to listen hard, particularly after dinner. Son Alexander (Sasha) is a fine violinist who has a beautiful tone, but his true and rare gift is a supple sense of the long line. One did not feel the bars, as one phrase just imperceptibly flowed into the next. At this tempo, one missed a little passion, but, occasional intonation problems notwithstanding, this was excellent playing.The Schinttke cadenzas (which involve the tympani) were played wonderfully and I wished they were playing one of Schnittke's violin works instead (Gennadi was and is the greatest champion of this composer; have you ever heard his recordings with Kremer and Tatiana Gridenko? Wow!)). I did not like the Bach encore.

The Shostakovich Symphony No. 10 was also quite slow. No detail was slighted and the performance was precise and atmospheric. In the first three movements the slow tempi did not bother me, as it allowed for much fine and insightful playing that stressed the phantasmagorical rather than the gritty, sarcastic and acidic. However, I did feel the finale could have used more force and attack. But then this Shostakovich symphony is a paradox open to interpretation, is it not? The reception at the end was tumultuous. I must mention again the very fine playing of the orchestral members. To cite just two, I have never heard Kam Shui play so loud and full, and the bassoon is an important figure here; and Mark Vines was absolutely splendid and confident in his delivery.

Hoi had also gone to the Thursday concert, which he said was even slower. He also mentioned the soloist was better last night. The Saturday concert was broadcast live by RTHK, but the program shall be repeated on 29 October at 2 pm. Make sure you tune-in (the slow tempi likely works less well on the air relay) and catch this rare moment. It is unlikely we shall get to hear him again in HK.

Below is a fantastic youtube footage of the pair performing Schnittke's Violin Concerto No. 4! Click the link and find Parts 2-4 in the sidebar.

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