HKPO’s Peak Performance
Hong Kong Cultural Center, Tsim Sha Tsui
11/28/2008 - and November 29
Richard Strauss: Capriccio: Sextet, Op 85 – An Alpine Symphony, Op 64
Camille Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op 22
Colleen Lee (Piano)
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, The Academy Symphony Orchestra, Edo de Waart (Conductor)
Edo de Waart (© Keith Sin)
The program of tonight’s concert combined wide-ranged genres – from the opening chamber music to a piano concerto, and finally a large-scale symphonic poem – as well as musicians of different backgrounds. The Sextet was performed by 3 sectional principals of HKPO, together with 3 young fellow musicians under the Robert Ho Family Foundation Orchestral Fellowship Scheme. This year, the Scheme provides 5 places for music students from distinguished mainland conservatories, allowing them to rehearse and perform with the HKPO for one full orchestral season under the guidance of concertmaster John Harding. This evening, 3 of them had the opportunity to perform this chamber work with their principals. Perhaps, since this was their first chamber performance, some of them appeared a little restless and tense. Their nervousness inevitably transformed the Prelude to Strauss’ opera Capriccio into a hasty and jittery piece. Moreover, the work’s chamber-scale intimacy was sacrificed by the dominance of first violin. John Harding’s overwhelmingly bright and glinting intonation made this chamber work sound like a violin concerto. Of course this was not his fault (this kind of “master” tone can only be found with excellent string players); the guilt should be put on the feeble voices by the 3 fellows. Nonetheless, their communication was intimate and interactive. Hopefully, this can be the important lesson they learnt.
Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto was delivered by our familiar local pianist, Colleen Lee, former student of APA (Academy for Performing Arts). An admirer of Mozart, Camille Saint-Saëns was known to some as the French Mendelssohn, and his music always possesses the clarity of form and texture common to these earlier composers. Gounod referred to him as the French Beethoven, and these flattering comparisons are evidence of the esteem in which he was held. The second of his five piano concertos was written in the space of seventeen days in 1868 at the request of Anton Rubinstein, with Saint-Saëns himself as soloist. The challenge of performing this short concerto is that it combines Mozartian clarity, Mendelssohnian vivacity, Beethovenian introspection, and, most importantly, Saint-Saëns’ own pianistic virtuosity. Lee’s excessive interest in bringing the introspective and virtuosic side of this piece somehow compromised its vivacity and vitality, a cardinal element of this light-hearted concerto. The opening cadenza was rendered with sparkle and twinkle, Lee’s hallmark qualities throughout. The octave bursts and blistering runs were dexterous and deft. However, her solemnity upstaged the rippling melodies, with the filigrees and panache always being too hard-edged. The Mendelssohnian second movement sounded a little flat-footed, rather than witty and lively, setting obvious contrast to the light-aired woodwinds. The third movement, which is a vigorous rolling Tarantella, was a dazzlingly virtuosic reading, though slightly over-serious. This young artist and the orchestra also exposed their lack of sympathy by a fatally flubbed chord at the end of the first movement, as well as some risky syncopation near the end of the last movement.
The second half was an enormously forced “Peak Performance”, with HKPO collaborating with elite music students from APA, forming a hundred-people orchestra. The standard of their playing was no less than HKPO musicians. Under the superb leadership by maestro Edo de Waart, the symphony was turned into a series of chiaroscuro, with exploratory details in meadows and the majestic summit. The horns (including the 12 hunting horns) took a significant role in this massive symphonic poem. Usually the horns are the weakest part of HKPO, but their condition was surprisingly remarkable tonight, with the jarring and burble tone vanishing. What was left was their grand and glorious character, although it sometimes overshadowed the introversive strings.
Overall, the annual collaboration between HKPO and APA this year was triumphant. With this kind of golden opportunities, our future pillars can tremendously improve themselves by playing with professional musicians and world-class conductor. We are proud of HKPO’s diligent effort on educating the young generation and promoting classical music into our community.
Danny Kim-Nam Hui