It was a miracle the concert happened at all amid Tropical Storm Doksuri. It left us with just enough time to hurry home before Signal 8 was hoisted. The concert was very poorly attended, and that was not just because of the typhoon. Ticket sales was abysmal and HKPO even called up friends and gave tickets away. I am pretty sure HKPO shall not program much Schumann or Bartok in the future. The poor attendance was just too bad. Both soloist and conductor deserved a much larger and wider audience. Coming right after Germany's European Cup loss to Italy, the German Italian partnership on this stage was admirable, in a program that is remarkable for its freshness and intelligent planning.
Isabelle Faust was scheduled to appear with HKPO back some years ago, but cancelled at the last minute due to urgent family matters. It has been a long wait too for the return of Carlo Rizzi, whose gut-wrenching performance of Mahler 6th in 2003 left indelible marks on us who were fortunate enough to have attended - it went straight to the heart in a way the over-rated Edo de Waart could never have emulated. The wait for both artists proved eminently worthwhile.
Opening the program was an oddity - the uncompleted two-movement Zwickau Symphony of Schumann. As an ardent fan of Schumann's symphonies, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the suave and idiomatic performance, no easy thing in Schumann.
Another two-movement (uncompleted in reality too) work followed - Bartok's Violin Concerto No. 1. Isabelle Faust had previously demonstrated her deep understanding of Bartok in her recording of Bartok Violin Sonatas, and that understanding was much in evidence in the performance of this concerto. Faust's command of tonal color (on the marvelous sounding "Sleeping Beauty" Strad) and sense of the long line simply made bar lines disappear, a miracle when it comes to Bartok. The orchestral contribution was similarly distinguished. After the intermission, she performed another rarity, Schumann's Fantasy in C. For me, Faust went over the top a little and in general the orchestra was less distinguished too than in the opener. A bit of Bach nicely rounded out her appearance.
Finally, back to Bartok, and what a performance of the Miraculous Mandarin Suite! This colorful piece is for me is a little like an amalgamation of Petrouchka and Rite of Spring, though even more difficult to carry off. Here Rizzi showed his operatic strength, a superb ability to tone paint - he got colorful sounds from the orchestra and made the character of the Mandarin virtually leap out of the music! The finale was rousing.
More than most concerts, this entire program was made of pieces much better heard in the concert hall than at home. What a rewarding evening!
Come back soon, Carlo Rizzi and Isabelle Faust!