Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Singapore Symphony Orchestra: Mahler's Tenth / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
LAN SHUI, Conductor
Friday (3 April 2009)
Esplanade Concert Hall

This review was published in The Straits Times on 6 April 2009.

Just when one thought that the Singapore Symphony Orchestra had wrapped up Gustav Mahler’s symphony cycle with the 90-minute Third Symphony in 2008, yet another unperformed symphony rears its convoluted head.

All that was left of the Austrian composer’s Tenth Symphony (1910) were a fully scored Adagio and sketches of four other movements. Various musicologists undertook the task of crafting a concert-worthy performing version of complete work, with Deryck Cooke’s being the familiar and most often recorded. SSO’s take on the evening was the American Clinton Carpenter’s less celebrated edition, which is the most densely orchestrated of the lot and arguably the most difficult to pull off.

Not one to shirk a challenge, Maestro Lan Shui (left) and the orchestra plunged headlong into its thickets of thorns, and emerged with more hits than misses. First the misses: with limited rehearsal time, there was bound to be balance issues and moments of rawness in ensemble. The orchestration could sometimes leave well alone, notably in the finale. Its poignant flute solo – a quintessential Mahlerian gem – was obscured with excessive counterpoint, while the violent funereal thuds on the bass-drum – a dramatic gesture in other versions - were reduced to a distant whimper.

Ultimately this 80-minute final love letter to an estranged wife was overflowing with the same ardour and angst that SSO has so memorably delivered in previous Mahler outings. The scherzos pulsed with whimsy and wit while the climaxes suffused with intoxicating passion, were milked for all their worth. And nobody knows how to draw out a slow movement, especially one brimming with luscious string textures, with such purpose and persuasion as Shui. Come May, when the SSO takes this Mahler Tenth on tour to Beijing, it should be close to perfection.

The ostensible reason why most people came was to hear the young French virtuoso Renaud Capuçon (left) in Mendelssohn’s evergreen Violin Concerto in E minor (Op.64). Here was a seemingly effortless performance, one pulled off with such great polish and aplomb as to be straight out of the recording studio.

Playing in the “Panette” Guarneri del Gesu that once belonged to Isaac Stern, the flawless intonation and sugary sweetness that flowed in the concerto and subsequent encore – Gluck’s Melody from Orpheus – was string lovers’ paradise. Somewhere, the Saint of Carnegie Hall must be smiling.

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