10 October, 2010

Concert Review: Hong Kong Sinfonietta - Christopher Hogwood

Concert Review: HK Sinfonietta-Christopher Hogwood

October 8, 2010, CH
Hong Kong Sinfonietta-Christopher Hogwood

Christopher Hogwood the baroque specialist needs little introduction. But a Martinu specialist who has been conferred honors by the Czechs? His modest website biography is a must-read, but make sure you read also the CV section, where he lists all his medals and honors!

So it's wonderful to have had the opportunity to hear him with the Sinfonietta, in a craftily designed program that entertained and educated, not less for the lights shed on some of the works when he took the time for stage work to explain to the audience salient points behind some of the pieces.

Handel of course featured prominently, Hogwood being a specialist and scholar on the great composer. Two movements from Handel's Concerto Grosso Op3/5 opened the program. A marvelously executed Music for the Royal Fireworks closed the program triumphantly. The string playing was lean, HIP and vibrant, the brass punctuating and acerbic at times, the percussion rattling, all highly exciting and well articulated.

In between came two neoclassical works. Stravinsky's Concerto in D for Strings received a perfectly judged rendition. The other, Martinu's Sinfonia Concertante No. 2, inspired by a Haydn work of the same combination, is much more difficult to bring off. The small concertante group (violin, cello, oboe and bassoon) and the orchestra were cautious at first, but things got better and better as the piece got along, revealing much of the work's myriad characters. If you are interested in this composer's work, I'd advise you to check out the Public Library, where a large number of Martinu recordings are available, including many in Hogwood's acclaimed series with the Czech PO on Supraphon and Hyperion.

Most revealing, and highly worthy of hearing, were two Bach orchestral transcriptions. The jewel-like Bach/Webern Ricercare from Musical Offering sounded pristine when heard live, much more fun than when heard at home. Must be awkward to conduct when individual notes are tossed around almost note-by-note among the instruments (the so-called Klangfarbenmelodie technique). Much more traditional and surprising in its craftsmanship and impact was the Bach/Raff Chaconne from Partita for solo violin No. 2. The work sounded truly Brahmsian and the orchestration is quite superior to what we hear from Stowkowski. In fact, I'd prefer to hear it more than some of Brahms' smaller orchestral pieces and overtures. Here is link to the Chandos recording, and you can hear an excerpt.

A wonderful program and wonderfully played. The Hogwood and the HK Sinfonietta must have worked hard on the disparate styles. Most worthy of mention was the concermaster, James Cuddeford, who led in an unfailingly assertive manner and played with style.

The exact program is to be played by the Guangzhou SO, in Guangzhou and in Beijing! What a wonderful idea and salute, Christopher Hogwood!

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