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Sparkling Stravinsky Overshadowed Mediocre Saint-Saëns

Hong Kong
Hong Kong Cultural Center, Tsim Sha Tsui
06/13/2009 -  & June 14*
Claude Debussy: Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Camille Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto No.3
Igor Stravinky: Petrushka

Dan Zhu (Violin)
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Lü Jia (Conductor)

Dan Zhu (© Metropolis Shanghai)

Saturday and Sunday evenings’ concerts were chemistry between two youthful Chinese musicians. Conductor Lü Jia performed in the Cultural Center last year, but as the director of the Macao Orchestra (Read here). This time, when he conducted the HKPO, he selected a completely contrasting program, displaying his all-rounded musicianship.

Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune was a challenge to every conductor by its dreamscape mood, ever-changing tempo, and the limpid sensuality the composer needs. Conductor Lü Jia natively attuned to these characters by capturing the music’s limpid texture. The memorable woodwind melodies on the top were supported intimately by the string tremolos. Every tempo change was carefully observed by the conductor and precisely executed by the orchestra.

In recent years, many young Chinese violinists stepped onto the international stage by their transcendental technique. Named “one of the emerging Chinese international artists today” by Gramophone magazine, Dan Zhu first gained international attention at the age of 18, when he made his Carnegie Hall debut. But his performance on Sunday afternoon fell far short from expectation. His Saint-Saëns Third Violin Concerto, which is among his mainstream repertoire, was an overwhelmingly expressive reading. Throughout the entire concerto, Mr. Zhu adopted excessive rubatos, vibratos, as well as a mellow and rich tone to deploy the music’s vehement emotions. However, the price he paid was the over-stodgy interpretation, especially at the barcarole-like second movement, where the orchestra rendered with a kind of French naivete. The first movement, too, sounded like a paganini’s concerto, in which the rapt solo-orchestra dialogues were buried amid Zhu’s overwhelming expressivity and domineering intonation. It was the fervent last movement which gave the audience some unforgettable moments, with his feisty gumption and athletic vigor spinning out seamlessly. Notwithstanding, Mr. Zhu seemed to be more interested in bringing the music’s superficial charm to the surface, lacking an in depth musical understanding. Perhaps a more feverish and passionate concerto like those by Tchaikovsky and Brahms is more suitable to Mr. Zhu’s temperament.

Stravinsky’s Petrushka was a fresh piece to the HKPO and Hong Kong audience. As a guest conductor, who conducted the orchestra for the first time, Lü Jia made a courageous choice. Mr. Lü showed a commanding leadership and total involvement at every bar of the music. The orchestra responded with impetuosity that was rarely heard under its music director, Edo de Waart’s baton. Stravinsky’s textural intricacy, rhythmic complexity, and profound sonority were all clearly observed and thoughtfully rendered. These were particularly heightened by the glittering woodwinds and deep string intonations. One minor reservation was the HKPO’s habitual problem, the inhibiting strings, which somehow sacrificed the music’s balance at climatic passages, leading to a jarring intonation.

It was a pity that such marvelous performance was only rewarded by a 60% attendance. It seems these emerging Chinese musicians have to be more diligent in cultivating a musical atmosphere in our nation.

HKPO’s Website

Danny Kim-Nam Hui



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