29 April, 2017

Concert Review: Sinfonietta-Poppen-Quero

Concert Review: Sinfonietta-Poppen-Quero

April 29, 2017, CH
HK Sinfonietta-Christoph Poppen-Ramon Quero

An ambitious program and another triumph for the HK Sinfonietta!

The unusual opener was a Chorale Prelude by James Cuddeford, Concertmaster, which is meant to be just the first part of a larger Triptych. It is a surprisingly ambitious work and quite interesting to my ears. I'd like to hear the rest of it.

Then came Richard Strauss' Oboe Concerto, given an immaculate performance by the Principal Oboe of the esteemed Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ramon Quero. His tone is big and full. Poppen guided the orchestra expertly and maintained a firm pulse, no easy task in this work, which lacks a good melody.

Beforehand, I had wondered how the Sinfonietta would fare in the big work that is Schubert's 9th. I hadn't need to worry! Poppen obviously know the work well, paced it absolutely masterfully, managed all the transitions with ease, and gave the work a fluidity that many lesser conductors would envy. The much exposed woodwinds and brass played very well. A bit more character and bite fromt he players would lend the work more tragic demeanor, but overall this is a tall achievement for the HK Sinfonietta, and once again I was mightily impressed by Poppen.

28 April, 2017

Concert Review: HKPO-Jaap, or Gone Largo and Sponsor's Poor Taste

April 26, 2017, CCCH
HKPO-Jaap-Storioni Trio

The concert did not start well. In Beethoven's Triple Concerto, all of us were not satisfied with the cellist of the Storioni Trio, whose small tone was apparently not matched in volume to the other two. Their performance just did not flow well. The orchestra was obviously toned down, and the whole thing just lacked Beethovenian sweep.

Compared to the previous proceedings, the orchestra was like an awakened giant in Shostakovich's Eighth Symphony, playing with precision and power. While the climaxes were thrilling, the slow passages (many and lengthy) lacked a feeling of foreboding or lament (not a Jaap specialty) central to the music. I was particularly taken aback by the largo, which was bland and passed unduly quickly.

Attendance was very poor, at maybe 50%, which made the sound a bit aggressive.

The concert was sponsored by Macallan. Their name was projected onto the wall before concert started and during intermission. Instead of the de rigeur bouquets, I was stunned when two orchestral members went backstage to procure three bottles of scotch for the trio. At the end of concert, Jaap also received a bottle.

I have never seen this happen anywhere. If you ask me, Poor Taste on the part of Macallan and the HKPO!

03 April, 2017

HKPO Elim Chan

Concert Review: HKPO - Elim Chan

April 1, 2017
HKPO - Stephen Hough - Elim Chan
Smetana - Beethoven - Rachmaninov

When I tried to buy a ticket for this concert some time ago, I was surprised to find it sold out on both nights. Fortunately, a friend procured me one ticket, second row, center balcony. I guess many people are curious to hear this LSO conducting competition winner, who has served as assistant for the LSO and now is chief conductor of Swedish NoorlandOperan.

With Smetana's Ma Vlast, Elim Chan immediately showed her youthful energy and solid command. Being dimunitive, her highly raised arms conducted in large arcs. The river flowed a little faster than usual.

Elim Chan's conducting in Beethoven's Emperor Concerto was absolutely stunning. Impeccably timed and full of dynamic fervor, it was as it should be, and much superior to the work of most other conductors I have heard in this work. However, there was an obvious dichotomy - soloist Stephen Hough's playing, though tidy and shaped, in contrast lacked dynamic nuance and sparkle, of utmost importance in this piece. Hence, although there was no question of syncing, subjectively the strange perception was a slow piano part and a fast orchestra accompaniment. Some of my friends felt the same. Hough's strange choice of Claire de Lune as an encore did him no favor, as it was played with virtually no atmosphere.

Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances received a well shaped performance. The waltz in the Andante was sensitively shaped yet well sprung - just marvelous. Overall, however, the performance lacked a certain Russian fervor, perhaps wistfulness. This is often true of the matter-of-fact HKPO, who do not do well in this repertoire (unless under a Russian conductor).

The Rachmaninov again illustrated the long time weakness of the HKPO - a weak wind section which played all the notes but had no wholeness. This hampered in particular the first movement. One heard the strings and the brass well, but struggled with the winds.

The center balcony is beloved by audiophiles, but imho the sound there is on the dry and sterile side. Big brass climaxes also sounded overloaded and coarse. I prefer more to the sides.

HKPO should invite Elim Chan back every year!