Austrian conductor Johannes Wildner has had long ties with Hong Kong, and should be familiar to many through his early Naxos recordings. On this occasion, his affable manner and musicianship was much in evidence.
Britten's Peter Grimes: Four Sea Interludes opened the program. Although I don't listen much to this piece at home, in the concert hall the colorful orchestration proved quite entertaining. It was not the most atmospheric, but the good playing ensured drama aplenty.
The HKPO has never been able to bring out the flavor in the French repertoire, especially Debussy's works. Although La Mer was reasonably well played and well controlled by Wildner, it felt more Germanic than French. At least on this occasion, things moved and did not become stagnant or flabby.
Brahms is again not a composer the HKPO feel entirely comfortable with, but soloist Garrick Ohlsson and conductor did a magnificent job of collaboration in the Piano Concerto No.1. Ohlsson's playing was outwardly self-effacing, but careful listening revealed a strong personality. His bronze tone, subtle variations of tone color and meticulous balance of chords proved more endurable than what more excitable soloists usually offer. When called for, he hammered it out effortlessly, but what impressed even more was the way he blended into the orchestral fabric in this most symphonic of concertos. The conducting too was magnificent, fluid and urgent when needed. This was not a performance that stressed youthful ardor or attempt to be heaven-storming, but it was ravishing in its maturity - I still savor it as I write!
Ohlsson played three encores, immaculate renditions of two Chopin and Scriabin. A wonderful evening!