27 February, 2010

Concert Review: HKPO-EdW-Bruckner 8

Concert Review: HKPO-EdW-Bruckner 8

May 27, 2010, CCCH HKPO/Edo de Waart
Bruckner 8 (1890 Nowak)

For starving Bruckner fans it had seemed good times had finally arrived. After a long drought, HKPO's 8th came hard on the heels of Macau Orchestra's 4th (reviewed in my last post below). Despite much hyperbole from the press, the inevitable comparison is not always to HKPO's advantage.

Recently, EdW seems to have mellowed a little, and the somewhat franctic delivery that used to mar much of his performances for this listener have been tempered a little. As expected, EdW conducted a straightforward interpretation, but the almost relaxed nature came as a surprise. This was a mixed blessing.

On the plus side, music from forte to fortissimo were properly scaled, hence for once true climaxes rang out the loudest, and that's most important in Bruckner, if not for all music. In the loud passages, when the music gained momentum, the orchestral playing was sonorous and satisfying. The orchestra, much larger than Macau's (by about 20 heads), was able to deliver a little more sheer volume, admirably without strain. The brass was very good.

On the minus side, music at the other end of the dynamic scale frequently lacked tension. Some of this was due to the literal conducting, which frequently had a sight-reading feeling. The frequent transitions between soft and loud did not feel inevitable. Some of this was due to the playing. In Bruckner's softer passages, the winds play an important role of pleading, cajoling and calling for renewal. This the pallid winds failed to convey on this occasion. And the strings were rhythmically earth-bound, lacking a springing quality to their steps which the Macau strings possessed in abundance.

For me, next to the curiously ineffective trio, the adagio suffered the most. This pivotal movement started beautifully but regrettably started to drag half-way when the music became tumultuous. For once, I paradoxically thought more urging on by this conductor here and there would have been beneficial. As a whole, the symphony did not have the breathing quality of the Macau performance. Even the well executed and powerful climaxes were too careful by half, and I looked for grandeur in vain.

Lest people think HKPO cannot play Bruckner before EdW, I'd like to point out that HKPO had previously played at least the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th. Two performances of the 4th in particular stood out in my memory. An early 90's performance by Yuri Simonov was hair-raising, technically ragged but inexplicably exciting. Then came a gut-wrenching performance by Gunther Herbig, with playing at least as good as on this occasion. Both of those performances had a grandeur that put you in touch with what Bruckner tried to convey in his masterpieces.

Being part of the Arts festival brought a full house, but also a much noisier audience than usual. There was prolonged coughing during the intervals, and once EdW turned his head and looked in dismay. Children tried to run out during the intervals but were stopped by the ushers. Most disruptive was that people were let in during the first interval!!!

For hyperbole I refer you to the promotion leaflet. Re: "Any performance of a symphony by Anton Bruckner is a major occasion, and EdW's inspired interpretation of the monumental Eighth is no exception." Re: "This is also a masterpiece which demands an austere conductor with the power to rein in Bruckner's tendency to diffuseness and shape the parts into the architecture of a titanic, visionary whole. De Waart, master of Bruckner, together with the renowned HKPO will bring his signature interpretation of this orchestral tour de force to the 38th HKAF." Inspired interpretation before the performance? Master of Bruckner? Perhaps from accolades elsewhere? I searched Google and failed to find anything that links EdW with Bruckner's 8th anywhere, indeed very few links to Bruckner at all. The promo team should be blamed for writing something like this.

The concert was reviewed by Sam Olluver in March 4th's SCMP.

I came across some interesting bits:

EdW Milwaukee interview
MSO's 2010/2011 season (Looks like HKPO programs; the only Bruckner is NOT conducted by EdW)


  1. sorry that the B8 was not as good as expected, although I didn't hv the chance to attend but as I recall his B7 1-2 years back was quite good actually. And the HKPO brass is very much up to the standard for bruckner.
    The perry so concert was also so-so, you can see further review from ,my blog

  2. thank you for your interest. I left a reply on your Blog.