23 September, 2012

Concert Review: Hong Kong Sinfonietta - Maxim Rysanov

picture-6Concert Review: Hong Kong Sinfonietta - Maxim Rysanov

September 22, CH
HK Sinfonietta - Maxim Rysanov - Yip Wing-sie
Prokofiev - Bartok - Chan - Stravinsky

Let me not mince words: Maxim Rysanov is one of the greatest string players I have heard. From the way he phrases the opening of the Bartok Viola Concerto (completion Tibor Serly) to the Romanian (gypsy) flourish of the Finale Rysanov was a model of an utterly natural musical sense wedded to formidable technical assurance. Under his hands, the Guadagnini viola not only has great tonal allure, but is also superbly transparent, with not a hint of the lugubrious quality one finds in lesser violas, more like a violin with richer tone. The orchestra played with discipline and assurance, and the whole was eminently satisfying.

The ambitious program opened with Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1, Classical. The opening was rather guarded, but the performance lightened up as it went along. I have said previously, the current iteration of the HK Sinfonietta is much stronger than before, and it was a commendable account, even if the last degree of flourish was missing from time to time.

The second half was not quite on the same level. Chan Hing-yan's 陳慶恩 'Twas the Thawing Wind 一霎好風 for sheng 笙 and orchestra started promisingly. The sheng has a limited range of color and dynamics, but it was effectively played by Loo Sze-wang 盧思泓. The program note by the composer mentioned, among others, Dowland, but the sonic landscape reminded me rather of the works of Part, Vask and Kancheli. Ultimately, the piece is too long for its materials, and the endless repetitions, rather than adding to, ended up detracting from its supposed poetry. The composer mentioned his fixation to the wind, but for a modern (after Debussy) masterpiece of that descriptive inclination one needs to look to Kancheli's Mourned by the Wind, also for viola and orchestra, which I had the fortune of hearing in Carnegie Hall played by the St Petersburg under Yuri Temirkanov, an unforgettable experience.

The concert closed with a cautious account of Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite. Like the Prokofiev, this is a score that is very difficult to bring to life, and the Sinfonietta was only periodically successful.

Aside from the Bartok, the HK Sinfonietta is taking the program on the road of their North American tour.

19 September, 2012

Concert Review: Chamber Concert at Artis Tree

Concert Review: Chamber Concert at ArtisTree

September 19, ArtisTree
Musicians of HK Sinfonietta
Yun - Rabe - Bartok

I have long noticed this series, but only managed yesterday to attend for the first time. I'd not miss the Bartok masterpiece for the world! The space was a barely camouflaged commercial space, with pillars obstructing those sitting on the side. But Bartok is not everyone's favorite, so most got to seat in the unobstructed center. Every piece got a nice introduction by the performer(s).

Bassoonist Chin Hing-sang opened with Isang Yun's Monolog for bassoon (first version was for bass clarinet). Indeed, as he said the piece was somewhat folk-tinted, but I found it rather repetitive and other pieces of this composer (like his cello concerto) more exciting.

Folke Rabe's Basta fared better under trombonist Jonathan Watkins. In this small space, the sound of the trombone was very rich; not a bit of glare!

The main course was the Bartók Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, and for a moment the current Chinese-Japanese dispute was forgotten. From where I sat, the pianos sounded unfortunately somewhat opaque. Pianist Alan Chu played accurately, but surely the Hungarian spirit was missing. Guest pianist Helen Cha was almost inaudible. In contrast, the sound of percussionist Rieko Koyama was sharp and incisive, and the playing of tympanist Akihiro Muramoto was excellent as usual (I am his fan). Despite my reservations I enjoyed the live performance very much.

Here is Bartok himself playing the piece with his wife Ditta:

And a more ferocious but highly exciting version by Richter and friends:

17 September, 2012

Concert Review: Hong Kong Philharmonic-Antoni Wit-Ingrid Fliter

Concert Review: Hong Kong Philharmonic - Antoni Wit - Ingrid Fliter
September 14,  CCCH
HKPO - Antoni Wit - Ingrid Fliter
Franck - Saint Saens - Beethoven

For years I have admired the Naxos recordings of Antoni Wit. Also, I have avidly followed pianist Ingrid Fliter's EMI recordings (most available from the library). So I went to the concert with great anticipation. My wishes were not only fulfilled, they were exceeded. Indeed, it was one of the best HKPO concerts ever.

Antoni Wit lost no time showing his true colors. Franck's Le Chasseur Maudit is a difficult piece to bring off, but Wit cajoled the HKPO players to play like possessed, which is exactly what the piece needs. Succesive waves of orchestral colors were a treat for the ears, making one forget its length and repititions.

Ingrid Fliter's playing has been familiar to me from recordings. In concert there seemed to be even more spontaneity. The extreme dynamic spread, strong accents and colors did not always work to the advantage of Saint Saens's Piano Concerto No.2. Indeed some notes sounded rather odd. One misses the patrician elegance and elan of Arthur Rubinstein. However, there was not a dull moment and one admired greatly the spontaneity. The orchestra was somewhat Germanic in response but fully in sync. The encore was a great treat: the 3rd movement of Beethoven's Tempest (just out on EMI) showed off Fliter's temperament to great effect. Indeed, one gives thanks for the masterpiece as well as the utterly fresh reading! Enjoy her youtube below, but I can assure you it was even better in concert!

Beethoven's Eroica received an appropriately grand reading under Wit, who squeezed every drop out of the HKPO. The smallish orchestra sounded big and confident. Wit brought out an incredible amount of details, yet maintained a natural flow. The dynamic contrasts were superbly shaded and climaxes truly thrilling. Here is a true master who can work the divided violins to the work's advantage (many lesser conductors fail, including EdW). This is by far the best Beethoven Symphony I have heard from the HKPO.

Come back soon, Antoni Wit! And how about a recital from Ingrid Fliter?

youtube of Ingrid Fliter playing Tempest:

Here is the seraphic Wilhelm Kempff playing the same:

And here is God Richter playing:

And here is God's teacher Heinrich Neuhaus playing (how wonderful!)