13 December, 2016

Concert Review: HKPO Jaap Mahler 3

Dec 10, 2016, CCCH
HKPO-Jaap-Kelly O'Connor-HK Children's Choir-Ladies of the HKP Choir
Mahler Symphony No. 3

With NYPO/Haitink's valedictory 2014 performance of Mahler's Symphony No.3 (here) still fresh in my mind, this performance did not quite measure up, but made for an interesting contrast.

The sprawling first movement showed most of Jaap's traits. Although meticulously detailed and with powerful climaxes, there were sagging moments, mostly in softer passages. Part of this had to do with the orchestra - the strings in particular, as usual, often had a leaden quality, lacking in subtlety and color. However, much of this also had to do with Jaap's pacing, as his smelling of roses sometimes got lost in the forest. The second and third movements also did not quite achieve a natural flow. Contrast this with Haitink, who with minimal intervention let the NYPO bring out much more the light and shade of the score. Indeed, this symphony is supposed to be a paen to nature, and Jaap's rendition seemed too studied in comparison.

The movements with vocal parts always played themselves, and it was no exception here. Kelly O'Connor had a rich voice which seemed perfect for me. Both her top and bottom were more alluring than Haitink's Bernada Fink. I must say, although usually Mark Wilson's oboe playing was not to my liking (as in much of this performance), his solos were nicely turned here. Laudably and delightfully, both the Ladies of the HK Philharmonic Choir and the HK Children's Choir sang clearly and with commendable diction, better than the NYC choirs for Haitink! As one of my friends remarked, a little more zing in the boy's voices would have been perfect. Also, whoever made them up deserves credit - the ladies in particular looked lithe and elegant.

The string dominated first part of the last movement had a good flow, but subsequent development was not entirely devoid of the aforementioned problems. Again, I somehow did not like the perfromance of Luce on the bassdrum and timpani, all sharpness and no color. Nonetheless, overall it was a very fine performance and the audience reception was tumultuous.

09 December, 2016

Yuri Simonov, Vassily Sinaisky

Concert Review: Two Russian Conductors

It has taken me a long time to get to writing up these two concerts, so it will be a little briefer than usual.

November 1, CCCH
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Simonov/Chen Sa


Event of the year that I almost missed were it not for my friend wss!

This was NOT the usual government LCSD offering, but a presentation by the awkwardly named "Hong Kong Association for Studies of World Literatures and Arts in Chinese" 世界華文文藝研究學會 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the monthly magazine of daily newspaper Mingpao 明報 (a publication with literary aspirations). For the longest time, there was NO publicity except for some ads in Mingpao, and NO internet info available in HK. I only learned of the concerts (I only attended the first one; there was another program the second day) from my friend wss, who saw the ad in Mingpao. SHAME!

The only internet info I found was their Shenzhen concerts a few days earlier, the same programs as in HK. I was ecstatic to find Yuri Simonov was the conductor. Simonov had appeared with the HKPO decades ago, and he GREATLY impressed me. HKPO was very uneven in those days, BUT under a great guest conductor they frequently managed to deliver visceral excitement (unlike now, better playing but less thrills). Imagine Bruckner under Russian Simonov (many orchestral mishaps, but undeniably exciting)!

One caveat. Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra does not have a website, and internet search does not turn up anything. It is well known Russian orchestras are constantly in flux and many have changed names. I remember years ago, in 2000, a so-called MPO visited HK (I did not attend) and caused a scandal (link here). So I was not without apprehension until I actually heard them.

Just a few notes of Shostakovich's Festive Overture were enough to dispel any doubts. Here was a virile orchestra with power and precision! Great stuff!

Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 was meat and potato to the orchestra, but soloist Chen Sa lacked the last ounce of power and panache to make it really take off, despite Simonov's discrete action of toning down the orchestra.

The orchestra came into its own in Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2, playing with considerable panache and precision. The string sections had to be among the best I have ever heard. With no more than 12/13 members, the violin sections outplayed (by far) the 16 or so members of the HKPO, playing not only with power and precision, but incredible nuance and subtlety. Simonov's fluid and natural phrasing kept one riveted by Rachmaninov's genius, with none of the longeurs that lesser conductors are wont to bring. The winds were distinctive and the brass strong - so biting, in fact, that some of my friends found them too acerbic (I didn't).

A GREAT Russian orchestra and a GREAT conductor. Come back soon!

November 25-26, CCCH
HKPO-Vassily Sinaisky-Alban Gerhardt


Vasilly Sinaisky last time stepped in last minute for Mahler (here). I liked his style and looked forward to his Tchaikovsky Manfred. I was not disappointed  His Manfred was not histrionic, but rather layered and detailed, coherent and lucid, a symphonic exposition of great satisfaction. The orchestra played very well.

First half was Dvorak's Cello Concerto. I am a fan of cellist Alban Gerhardt, who had appeared in HK before (2010 AYO). But on this evening his tone seemed smaller than last time and I had trouble hearing him sometimes, even if Sinaisky had considerately toned down the orchestra. In all, a rather subdued performance shorn of grandeur.