20 June, 2016

Concert Review: HKPO - Jaap - Karen Gomyo

Image result for karen gomyoConcert Review: HKPO - Jaap - Karen Gomyo

June 18, 2016, CCCH
HKPO - Jaap van Zweden - Karen Gomyo
Rossini - Bruch - Borstlap - Respighi

A spirited reading of Rossini's La Gazza Ladra Overture opened the program. The main attraction, Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1 received a tidy performance from the team. Karen Gomyo has a nice tone and played smoothly, but the feeling was somewhat small-scaled. Jaap delivered an excellent accompaniment (as he always does), but wanting was the piece's sense of brooding and melancholia.

Second-half opened with a surprisingly tonal (in the twentieth century sense) newly commissioned work by Borstlap, Solemn Night Music. The program extravagantly introduces the composer as "...one of the first composers in Europe to explore the possibilities of a revival of the classical tradition...", and the music "...which absorbs the musical style of the 20th century, presents related ideas which are constantly varied and almost never repeated literally, so that we hear the same things in ever newer forms...". Unfortunately, while we hear snippets here and there reminiscent of Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht, these were indeed "varied" to go nowhere. Borstlap's tepid "night music" is devoid of fantasy and not a patch on Schoenberg's masterpiece. One of the most boring piece of new music I have heard.

Respighi's Pines of Rome suits Jaap to a "T", who brought out every nuance in the luxurious score, and the orchestra was responsive to his every whim, though the piece remained music without much spiritual element. I wished the organ was louder.

17 June, 2016

Concert Review: HKPO Bruckner 4th

Image result for van zwedenImage result for louis lortieConcert Review: HKPO Bruckner 4th

June 11, 2016, CCCH
HKPO - Jaap van Zweden - Louis Lortie
Mozart - Bruckner

Concert opened with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, which the sometimes wayward Lortie (in recordings) played surprisingly in a straight and fluid fashion. Although stylish, the last ounce of tonal and rhythmic refinement was missing, and his tone was not the biggest. The orchestral accompaniment was stylish and tight - commendable.

Bruckner's Fourth Symphony (Haas) received an excellent performance. All sections played at an elevated standard. Even more than the strings, the woodwinds seemed more fortified than usual. The brass was largely excellent, with steady and atmospheric horns. More importantly, Jaap van Zweden, an acknowledged Bruckner conductor, mostly had the right feeling of ebb and flow so important to Bruckner. He was also able to coax a full and truly thrilling sound in the climaxes, yet keep things tight and eventful in the equally important softer moments.

However, his approach did not fully carry the last movement. Maybe this sounds like heresy: like the Brahms Fourth, personally I have always found the ending problematic (the alternate editions too), as the ending "blaze" is to me not as thrilling as the first climaxes. Also, there are many start and stop passages, which under Jaap's literal rendition had a feeling remarkably close to the first movement of the Fifth Symphony (this is not as it should be, as the 5th inhabits a completely different world, with a less radiant, more mysterious atmosphere). Thus, in the last movement grandeur was only intermittently evident; my own feeling is you need some more shaping and stretching to achieve true atmosphere, and HKPO had achieved this before in this symphony (under Yuri Simonov and Gunther Herbig; see my write-up here). Lu Jia had also achieved more atmosphere in this symphony with his Macau Orchestra (here).

The HKPO strings are part of the problem. They played with accuracy and power, but not much radiance so important in Bruckner (which Lu Jia/Macau did well). Places like the repetitive figures in the last movement, and the Trio, just felt mechanical and earthbound. But overall, I am satisfied.

vs Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nezet-Sequin's Bruckner 4th
Take all this with a grain of salt, as I did not attend the performance, having only heard it through the radio. It is pathetic that these are the only two performances of Bruckner in HK this year, that it had to be the same symphony and that they came within a month of each other!

I thought the Philadelphia rendition clearly rendered and very well played (as usual for this orchestra), but it had almost the same problem as the same team's Bruckner 9th I heard in Carnegie Hall (here), namely a lack of spiritual dimension in the last movement (Jaap did not escape from this either). In terms of flow, overall I prefer Jaap's conception.

Opinions among my friends were quite divided. Some reveled in the Piladelphia's sonority, while others found a curious lack of spiritual journey. At the HKPO concert, I ran into a dozen acquaintances - they were divided too but surprisingly the majority preferred the HKPO/Jaap performance. There is some brand loyalty and US-bashing here I think, but that is par for the course.

A thought: In the quest for precision, many performances under younger conductors to a variable degree miss the spiritual side of things. This is across the board, a world-wide phenomenon.

Concert Review: Richard Galliano

Image result for galliano bach
Concert Review: Richard Galliano

June 10, 2016, CH
Richard Galliano - City Chamber Orchestra - Jean Thorel
Vivaldi - Villa-Lobos - Piazolla - Galliano

I came to know polyglot musician Richard Galliano through his magnificent Bach album, which I first borrowed from the library. I liked it so much that I bought the CD.

The first half comprised an arrangement of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, for bandoneon, two violins, viola, cello and bass (same as in the Bach album). Although Bach himself had arranged much of Vivaldi successfully, Galliano's working of Vivaldi, unlike his Bach, was only intermittently successful. The bandoneon frequently gets tripped in both fast and slow passages. The string players of the CCOHK are marvelous. In particular, the playing of Concertmaster Amelia Chan was magnificent, completely fluid, and she frequently stole the limelight from Galliano!

Second-half opened without soloist, in a tidy rendition of Villa Lobos Bachianas Brasilerias No. 9, but I personally would like a larger orchestra (or a smaller space) for this composer's mostly sec works.

Piazolla's Aconcagua Concerto found Galliano in his true elements. Simply magnificent, and imho as good as the master's own! If only the strait-laced percussion (drum and tympani) had more Latin flavor!

Then came Galliano's La Valse a Margaux, a beautiful old-styled waltz played to perfection.

The encores were magnificent. The first was a potpurri - I think Galliano's own, maybe partly improvised. I heard everything, a trace of Bach here, maybe Widor too? And then Piazolla and so forth. Great stuff! Then came Piazolla's smoky Oblivion (with orchestral accompaniment) that rounded out a very nice evening.