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Electrifying Kick-off of 2009 Hong Kong Arts Festival

Hong Kong
Hong Kong Cultural Center, Tsim Sha Tsui
02/07/2009 -  
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.6 in A minor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Bernard Haitink (Conductor)

Bernard Haitink (© Todd Rosenberg)

The 2009 Hong Kong Arts Festival kicked-off on Friday and Saturday evenings with great anticipation. The Chicago Symphony was ranked fifth best orchestra in the world by the authoritative Gramophone Magazine last year; and the Netherlands born conductor Bernard Haitink is renowned for his interpretation of Mahler symphonies. After their triumphant performance of Mozart’s 41st Symphony and Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben last night, Haitink and CSO bestowed their top-forms on the Cultural Center by delivering Mahler’s most underrated symphony, the Tragic (Haitink and CSO recorded this symphony previously under CSO’s own label).

If the concerts on Saturday evenings left one thing certain, it was CSO’s impeccability and perfection. It was an occasion to reflect that one is unlikely to ever hear this symphony played better. The limpid balance and lucid texture, the cardinal quality of any great orchestra, were the most astonishing aspect of their playing throughout. None of the voice, no matter if it was a melody, a bass line, or an inner voice, was buried amid Mahler’s polyphonic intricacy, even it was in the most tumultuous passages. The brass was bright and glittering, but never domineering; the strings were suave and luscious; the woodwinds were delicate and dovetailed. Even the most whispering string pizzicato and tremolo, as well as the most refined woodwind ornaments could be clearly heard. However, after putting together, they were never discrete and disparate parts, but a compatible entity with unity and control.

The most blissful moment came from the slow movement, when the rapt melodies in different parts were echoed exquisitely with the support of the most congruous harmony.

Bernard Haitink showed complete command to all the musicians on the stage, and his every intention was effectively realized by the orchestra’s prompt response without any distortion and deformation. He also convincingly asserts he is one of the greatest Mahler interpreters amongst all the living conductors (he has recorded numerous Mahler cycles with Concertgebouw and various European top orchestras). Being natively attuned to Mahlerian language, Maestro Haitink turned the 80-minute piece into a unified, coherent artwork. The whole symphony was rendered with a compulsive drive that magnified both its surface drama and underlying intensity. Nevertheless, same as Mr. Haitink’s temperament, it was a pristine and authentic account, without much artificiality and exaggeration in it. Looking pale and frail, this 80-year-old master lost none of his potency and energy; rather, he conducted with a youthful body language and his trademark textbook beating patterns from the marching pace at the beginning until the last pizzicato chord at the end.

Bravo was the first sound I heard after the triumphant ending. The audience raved with roaring applause and stamping ovation which brought Mr. Haitink 7 times back to the stage. The Hong Kong audience was really lucky to witness one of the world’s leading orchestra presenting the most flawless and faultless orchestral playing in this city. We should also be grateful to the marvelous organization of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. Keep tuned to the ConcertoNet.com for the upcoming HKAF events.

Danny Kim-Nam Hui



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