06 August, 2018

Concert Review: Asian Youth Orchestra 2018

Concert Review: Asian Youth Orchestra 2018

As I bid farewell to HK, I managed to attend this year's AYO concerts, and I am happy to report it is one of the strongest yet.

August 4, 2018, CCCH
AYO - James Judd - Yu-Chien Cheng
Enescu - Barber - Rachmaninov

Compared to the previous night, from the first note, it was obvious the orchestra is a tighter ensemble under the direction of James Judd.

The opening Enescu Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 was well played and  a crowd pleaser. The Barber Violin Concerto that followed was fluidly played by Yu-Chien Tseng and received idiomatic support from the orchestra. Oddly, despite his fine Guarneri, I find the top registers a little too sharp.

The all-Rachmaninov second half opened with a restrained vocalise, which managed to tuck at the heart string at the last moment. But nothing prepared me for the sheer glory of the Symphonic Dances, which bettered the two performances (HKPO and RNO) I have heard in the last two years (here).

Judd's mastery of the long and tricky score is absolute - there was not a dull moment. Amazingly, the all-important winds played with immense character (unlike the HKPO) and the brass was refined. Before I forget, kudos to the most amazing saxophone solo (a kid from HK)! More importantly, even if the last degree of orchestral power is missing, the sentiment and sometimes wistful character of the score was captured to perfection. Tears rolled down my cheeks - it was that good. The previous night's Russian soloist Anna Tsybuleva, who was sitting with Richard Pontzious in the orchestra, was clearly moved and agitated by the performance, and I saw her wiping away her tears at one point. There can be no higher accolade.

August 3, 2018, CCCH
AYO - Richard Pontzious - Anna Tsybuleva
Wagner - Prokofiev - Rachmaninov - Gershwin

I am not sure why anyone would want to open a concert with Wagner's Die Meisteringer Overture. It is just a hard piece to keep together and keep flowing. On this occasion, the performance was decent, but not exceptional. Ditto Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, which never fails to please, but a bit more poetry would not have been amiss.

The second half raised the temperature. Pianist Anna Tsybuleva delivered a glittering account of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. Although her tone was just a little light, her rhythmic finesse carried the piece. To Pontzious' credit, the accompaniment was excellent, tight and fluent. Gershwin's An American in Paris crackled with energy, a piece well suited to Pontzious' usual driven style.