22 January, 2017

Concert Review: HKPO-Jaap-Siegfried

Concert Review: HKPO-Jaap-Siegfried

Jan 22, 2017, CCCH
Wagner Siegfried Opera-in-Concert

Time flies! A blink and the third installment in the Ring cycle is upon us.

Three singers have appeared before in the same roles and here maintained the same standards:  Matthias Goerne's voice has darkened a little, otherwise his portrait of Wotan has remained largely the same, though it should be said that his role in this opera is a relatively small one.  Deborah Humble as Erda (this time I noticed her low notes were on the lean side); David Cangelosi as Mime gets a much larger role this time, and is indeed central to the opera.

Two singers who have appeared before have switched roles: Falk Struckmann's Fafner is just as imposing and enticing as his Hunding (Walkure); as Brunnhilde, Heidi Melton may not characterize as well as Petra Lang (Walkure), but it was hard to resist her vocal opulence. In a few passages, I did notice in her voice some gravels not previously present (as Sieglinde) - I hope she shall not be another big voice who gets burned out too soon.

Three singers are new: Werner van Mechelen's role as Alberich is a small one in this opera; Valentina Farcas may not be the definitive Woodbird, but she was very good and her stunning presence unequivocally contributed to the wonderment (call me shallow; but, yes, visuals are helpful!); Simon O'Neil, apparently a well seasoned heldentenor, was a disappointment as Siegfried - apart from his voice being not big and full enough (granted, the orchestra should have been in the pit), his diction and characterization also failed to captivate me. My seat faced the left cheek of Jaap, but I could still hear every singer well, except him.

Overall, the First Act was the best. Both the Second and Third Acts fared less well in their second halves. What should have been high drama between Siegfried and Mime, and between Siegfried and Brunnhilde, felt diluted in the long run. As Mime and Brunhilde sang very well, I put this down to my inability to respond to Siegfried. This was less damaging in the Second Act, as the interchanges are short and terse. But the same is not true for the ending to the opera: one needs to feel wave after wave of intensifying frenzy, but O'Neil was completely out-sung by Melton, not to mention drowned out by the big brass. Despite the common factor of Melton, the love and passion that we felt between Sigmund and Sieglinde in Walkure was not reproduced here. I miss Stuart Skelton! Another factor in this was the contribution of the orchestra: despite still very good playing, understandably there is less layering as the acts went on (and on).

Musing: I delightfully learnt that my friend Andrew, not to mention his wife, both harbor the same dislike for Siegfried as I. For me, this is one reason why the end of this opera is rarely as touching as Walkure, which feels more genuine (though still on Wagner's terms). Wagner envisioned the fusion between music and theater, but quite often, if I dare say, his synthesized and recycled philosophy gets in the way. Here I must say I am not the usual opera fan. Usually, even in Italian opera, I go for the orchestral part, as there is too much good music there that one would not hear otherwise in the concert hall. My personal feeling is that Wagner had not achieved his ideal, as he is greater in his music than in his theater, not to mention his philosophy. In a strange way, I count myself an ardent Wagnerian, but one almost entirely geared towards the orchestral part; any good contribution from the vocals is a plus, disappointment the usual. That said, the opera has more atmosphere in the opera house (if not ruined by the egoistic director) and the Opera-in-Concert is a compromise, even for those who have watched the proceedings before in the opera house. Funny that after the concert, in the supermarket I ran onto Luce, the percussionist, and he said: "the orchestra should have been in the pit". I agree.

Jaap Van Zweden, as before, proved himself a very good Wagnerian. The HKPO played valiantly and with feeling. All in all, a great effort!

p.s. it should be noted that among the many extra players were EIGHT brass players (mostly horns and Wagner tubas) from mostly German orchestras, a higher count than any other concert in memory. Indeed it can be said that the horn section we heard is largely NOT the HKPO. I shudder to think of the expense incurred.

Concert Review: HK Sinfonietta-Christoph Poppen-Alina Pogostkina

Concert Review: HK Sinfonietta-Christoph Poppen-Alina Pogostkina

Jan 21, 2017, Tsuen Wan Town Hall
HK Sinfonietta - Christoph Poppen - Alina Pogostkina

Concert opened with Webern's early In Sommerwind, intelligently connecting to the Brahms of the second half. Commendably, the fluid performance effectively tied up the contrasting moods of the various episodes.

Alina Pogostikina played the Beethoven Violin Concerto with leisure and substance, but it was not an interpretation for all tastes. Here is a violinist who is different, with a rich and nuanced tone; even the high notes of the Strad sounds luxurious (rather than parched, as in lesser hands). She favored more legato and long phrases than usual, and her bow seemed always very close to the strings. I am not schooled in violin technique, but occasionally I was not comfortable with what I thought were intonation anomalies which might have been due to the employment of small scoops and slides. My violin-playing friend BenYC said it did not sound very "Beethoven", which I agree. Orchestral contribution was tidy. Despite a couple of jarring wrong notes, the Bach encore was uncommonly compelling.

Despite the small forces, Brahms Third Symphony received a cogent reading. Christoph Poppen is obviously much attuned to the composer. With minimal fuss, he managed all the transitions with ease. The many lyrical episodes were particularly rewarding. Aided by the exceptional sonics of this hall (a smaller replica of the Town Hall in Central; with I think even better sonics), the performance has that Brahmsian warmth that is often lacking in performances by more high profiled orchestras, including the HKPO.

The HK Sinfonietta seems to have entered a more stable period, with fewer personnel changes and generally very good playing.