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Maestro de Waart meets Acclaimed Cellist Wang Jian

Hong Kong
Hong Kong Cultural Center, Tsim Sha Tsui
01/11/2008 -  & 01/12/2008
Chen Qigang: Wu Xing (The Five Elements)
Antonin Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op.104
Robert Schumann: Symphony No.3 in E Flat Major, Op.97 'Rheinish'

Wang Jian (Cello)
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Edo de Waart (Conductor)

The 2008 HKPO season kicks-off tonight with a series of concerts spanning the next four weeks. Better known as the ‘Swire Maestro Series,’ these are inaugurated to celebrate the many fine and young Chinese music talents we have among us, recognized both local and abroad ranging from the Cello to the Piano. First on the roster this week, we have the acclaimed Chinese cellist, Wang Jian, an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist for over a decade, whose name has inspired listeners for his temperament, intellect and technique – all three in complete unity whether being heard on record or experienced from his playing live in concerts. Tonight, he was the first of four featured artists of the ‘Swire Maestro Series’ to be presented on tonight’s programme. Together with Chen Qigang’s Wu Xing and Schumann’s Symphony No.3 in E Flat ‘Rheinish,’ Wang Jian joins Maestro de Waart in an epic reading of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor Op.104.

Chen Qigang’s Wu Xing (The Five Elements) is a Suite for Orchestra that uses musical idioms to highlight the fundamental elements of the Universe, according to Chinese philosophy. These include the symbols of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, and in Wu Xing, each of these elements and their interrelationships with each other are vividly depicted in musical terms in five little sections. Clearly, using various combinations of instruments from the Orchestra and special techniques incorporating Western and Eastern harmonies, Chen’s Wu Xing represent a unique fusion of the both worlds that could easily be traced back to those Western influences of Debussy, Stravinsky, and none the very least, to Oliver Messiaen, the teacher of Chen himself. The element of water was clearly the most represented out of the five elements heard in Wu Xing, as one’s senses vividly experience those water-dripping effects and almost horrific thunderous rainfalls that were presented by the woodwinds and strings, so effective it was that these almost seemed visual in front of one’s eyes, let alone as it passes through one’s ears. Each of the five elements represents components that constitute the whole of this Suite, and for example, fire can be depicted by the effects of rocks being knocked against each other. To achieve this, Chen brilliantly uses the strings, as the players tap their bows onto their instrument’s ever-so-gently onto the bodies of their instruments to elicit this almost eerie picture. Starring Wu Xing in a concert’s opening established such an atmosphere that laid as a good stepping ground for our next Dvorak Concerto to resolve.

Wang Jian’s performance of the Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor Op.104 was clearly the highlight of the evening, and unanimously, it gained the audience’s cheer with no less than four ovations plus three additional after his added encore from one of Bach’s Unaccompanied Suite for the Cello. Nevertheless, Wang’s playing went to the heart of the music in a way flashier interpretations would not have achieved. Notably, it was the way he lined his phrasing that continually brought out an imaginative, vocational, and pleasing sound that urged each listener to beg for more. His playing ultimately made the music move, rather than the converse, and it was this quality that made his Concerto performance representative. From the first movement Allegro to the almost tragic quality of the third movement, Wang delivered a masterstroke into a masterpiece! What a sumptuous sound, from the most passionate ff that almost seemed effortless to Wang’s bowing to the most suavely tenuous pp where one could see the full concentration on Wang’s entire posture to deliver the quietest sound ever so diligently. Here was playing that came from the soul, and not from the instrument’s soundbox. The shaping of melodic lines and dynamics took each audience to a closer look into the heart of Dvorak’s mind, and through Wang Jian’s cello, one could pinpoint the poetic fervor from the most feminine to the most percussive movements, and Wang magnifies the admirable voice of his Amati. To some individual’s taste, though it may not have sounded as full-bodied and full of enthusiasm as a Yo-Yo Ma’s or as disciplined stylistically but full of flavor and nuances as a Mischa Maisky’s, one cannot help but to proclaim and cheer after hearing Jian Wang’s interpretation as he consumes a victorious bow from the expressive richness of his Adagio’s melodic lines to the very fast movements where he maintains a full range of tones and fiery momentum. At the end, one is indebted also to Maestro de Waart, who led the Orchestra tonight with patience and understanding. The overwhelming feeling was that everyone attending tonight, whether the Maestro himself [as shown by his smiles and claps and quick-act returning back on stage from the back-door to hear Wang’s encore on stage] or as a performer, seemed utterly satisfied to be a partner of Wang Jian. And so are we, as listeners, as a matter of fact!

Maestro de Waart takes a very Romantic view of Schumann’s scores in his reading of the Symphony No.3 in E Flat Major Op.97 ‘Rhenish.’ It turned out to be a riveting live performance, and though some may disagree otherwise, the performance tonight did achieve the quality of darkness and somber in tone so representative of this period in Schumann’s musical life, coincidently just 6 years before his death in 1856. This Symphony is one of those examples that represented a leading light in the German Romantic movement, and Maestro de Waart’s appreciation and connection with the passion in the music comes through with a keen sensitivity. The Rhenish is a easy-going and occasionally sweet; it is the only five-movement symphony separated in subtitles that the composer wrote. It is deeply-moving, powerful, and dramatic music, where notably, the fourth movement has this majestic quality that almost seemed Gothic in music architectural terms. Schumann, himself, was a master of detail as a composer, and Maestro de Waart is a master of detail as a conductor, so, thus, this turns to be a perfect pairing. The intensity of the HKPO performance tonight, beginning with the very exciting first movement and continuing onto the triumphant epiphany of the final fifth movement is dominated by uniform brilliant playing from the HKPO strings, and some wonderful articulations from the French horns. Incidentally, Schumann had great fondness for the horns, and consistently used them all intelligently in his orchestral music. Schumann’s symphonies, nowadays, are so underappreciated, though there are some conductors out-there, who proclaim them as unparalleled in the post-Beethoven world. Tonight, Schumann’s Symphonies, lived out through the music of the Rhenish, is captured in great awe by Maestro de Waart and the HKPO that would have made Schumann smile at his grave.

Patrick P.L. Lam



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