The Launch of Chamber Music Festival
Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall
Franz Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in D Major, Op. 64 No. 5 “The Lark”#
Robert Schumann: Adagio & Allegro in A flat Major, Op. 70+
Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka: Grand Sextet in E flat Major^
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Octet in E flat Major, Op. 20*
Grzegorz Kotow^*, Dan Zhu^* (violin), Andrew Ling^* (viola), Trey Lee+^* (cello), New Helsinki Quartet#*, Da Xun Zhang^ (double-bass), Peter Jablonski+, Colleen Lee^ (piano)
With three professional orchestras and many amateur ones, it is truly precious that Hong Kong has a music festival which solely embraces chamber music, a genre that does not sound very familiar to many of the local concertgoers. The gala opening concert on Wednesday evening was an exhilarating fiesta of chamber music, with repertoire ranging from duo to octet.
The concert opened with a String Quartet by Haydn, who is widely regarded as the father of the genre, rendered by the New Helsinki Quartet. The ensemble did not derailed audience’s lofty expectation. What they presented was not merely a mechanical synchronization which involves no more than physical collaboration – it reminded me of the mediocre performance by the Emerson Quartet last month. It was, indeed, a spiritual partnership by four musically thoughtful musicians. If I would have to use one word to describe their performance, ‘unity’ would be a perfect choice. The harmoniously blended sonority and finely balanced texture were constant throughout the four movements. Their crisp articulation in the outer movements also fully captured Haydn’s sense of humor and wit. Every nuance of the music was cogently reflected by their refined skills and probing musical minds. Bravo!
Schumann’s Adagio & Allegro was originally composed for the horn and piano. The version played in the concert was an arrangement by the composer himself. Despite the fact that the role of the piano is most of the time inhibited by the solo instrument throughout the piece, pianist Mr. Jablonski’s poetic insight and cantabile phrasings were impressive. One could also hear many blissful charms from Mr. Lee’s overtly expressive playing; for his singing tone was like a virile tenor. My one minor reservation was that the cello was sometimes too domineering that some of the rapt dialogues between the two instruments became barely discernible. It was otherwise a consummate interpretation.
The Grand Sextet by Glinka is amongst the rarely performed concert repertoire. It is impossible not to admire the musicians’ choice of bringing a variety of instrumental settings and musical styles in one concert. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the least satisfactory rendition of the whole evening. Scored for the unique arrangement of a string quartet plus a double-bass and a piano, Glinka regularly turns the central role in this music over to the piano. But Ms. Colleen Lee’s jarring tone and harsh phrases seemed not very successful in leading and arousing the ensemble - she had been struggling in finding a comfortable balance with the remaining strings. The perceptually apparent technical flaw at the end of the last movement flubbed what had been built up by the remaining five musicians in the preceding passages. The monochromatic reading somehow turned the three-movement piece into a tedious boredom.
In contrast, Mendelssohn’s String Octet after the intermission was an ebullient reading, tellingly exemplifying the composer’s youthful vitality, particularly since the work was composed when the composer was still a teenager. Mr. Zhu, at the leading chair, rendered with a hard-edged articulation and glittering tone that imbued the music with extra potency. But for ears attuned to a more refined and polished Mendelssohn, this reading sounds a little too reckless. I would also have welcomed a more intimate exchange of dialogues between the eight musicians which could more cogently embody the ‘chamber’ element of the work.
The programme leaflet was also finely printed and carefully designed. What interested me most was the brief history of classical music and the timeline of composers and compositions played in this festival. It was really a hard job for the anonymous author to compress such a massive topic into the span of a few pages; notwithstanding a great job was done. We are looking forward to the upcoming events of the Chamber Music Festival.
Danny Kim-Nam Hui