23 March, 2014

Concert Review: Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra - Rosel - Ehwald

Concert Review: Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra - Rosel - Ehwald

March 21, 2014, Shenzhen Concert Hall
Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra - Peter Rosel - Christian Ehwald
All Brahms

Peter Rosel must be one of the most under-rated pianist. I have long admired his extensive recordings on Berlin Classics (see his discography); most to me are top tier, including his Rachmaninov and Prokofiev (not surprising given his Russian training with teachers like Bashkirov and Oborin). So I was really excited about the concert.

Needless to say, Rosel had the full measure of Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, sounding unhurried and bringing out many inner details. As usual, Ehwald and the Shenzhen Symphony delivered idiomatic Brahms. Overall, however, I would have preferred a bit more drive, a more youthful perspective. The end result was just a bit on the plain side, disappointing considering what I have heard on records.

Brahms Symphony No. 2 opened with a leisurely tempo. Ehwald took his time with the next 2 movements too. Compared to his previous performance in 2010 the orchestra obviously played with more beauty (particularly in the winds) and Ehwald was able to cultivate beautiful tutti and chords (so essential in Brahms). However tension sagged a little until the last movement, which was taken at a surprisingly fast tempo, a little coarse for my taste.

11 March, 2014

Concert Review: Shenzhen Symphony - Ehwald - Li

Johnson ZHongxin LiConcert Review: Shenzhen Symphony - Ehwald - Li

March 7, 2014, Shenzhen Concert Hall
Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra - Christian Ehwald - Johnson Zhongxin Li 李仲欣

As they say, good things come in pairs, or so I thought. It is not so often one gets to hear Bruckner in Hong Kong. But the day after the magnificent performance of Bruckner 9 in HK (see last post) there was a Bruckner 4 next door in Shenzhen! I was tired but still decided to go.

Concert opened with a straightforward Wagner Meistersinger Overture I could have done without. Nothing prepared me for the wonderful performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto 1 by Hong Kong's own child prodigy Johnson Li Zhongxin 李仲欣. Judging from what I read on the internet, he must be 11 now, not 9 as the program bio (largely copied from other material) claimed. Although dynamics and shading were not quite comparable with good adult pianists, Li nevertheless played with verve and in a sonorous manner. The interpretation was straightforward and articulate, well supported by the orchestra.

I was quite surprised by the slow tempo Ehwald adopted for Bruckner's Symphony 4, clocking in at more than 70 minutes, and that is almost Celibidache territory. Although Ehwald had the full measure of this symphony and easily managed the tricky passages, the Shenzhen Symphony, good as they are and valiant in their effort, was only periodically successful. One could not help but feel (and endure) the glacial tempo. Not everyone is Celibidache!

09 March, 2014

Concert Review: Budapest Festival Orchestra - Ivan Fischer

Concert Review: Budapest Festival Orchestra - Ivan Fischer

March 6, 2014, CCCH
Budapest Festival Orchestra - Ivan Fischer
Mozart - Bruckner

Ever since I encountered the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer on their early Hungaroton recordings, I have followed them, particularly through their Philips and Channel Classics recordings; the latter are especially splendid. I was also fortunate enough to have heard them in 2004 (Beethoven and Brahms). I was really excited when I knew they would do Bruckner this time. I googled but found little on them in Bruckner. My considerable expectations were amply fulfilled.

I cannot imagine Mozart's Symphony 40 done any better. Fischer is not a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, and conducted with economy and clarity. The interpretation did not milk the dark undercurrents, but its classicism revealed layers after layers of music, AND emotion, including a tinge of sadness where appropriate. The orchestra was so perfectly balanced that we could hear everything even behind the orchestra. The strings (divided violins) in particular were outstanding, rendering lucid counterpoints. The winds and brass (valveless horns) were likewise perfectly balanced.

Fischer had the full measure of Bruckner's Symphony 9. While the transparent reading did not emphasize angst (like the dissonance in the Adagio), there was a sense of inevitability that led one to contemplate whether Bruckner achieved peace.The seating arrangement was most unusual (but effective) in that the 5 horns were placed upfront in a semi-circle surrounding Fischer, with the 4 Wagner tubas behind them.

Encore was a blissfully serene and incredibly refined Bach Air on G String.

Gramophone had the BFO as the world's 9th best, but IMHO they are among the very top. The strings in particular are second to none, the VPO included.