Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra / Review

Kazuhiro Koizumi, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Sunday (19 April 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 21 April 2009.

Japanese orchestras are generally known for their discipline, technical prowess and refinement of execution. These qualities and more were amply displayed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, on its first overseas tour in seven years, in a concert that centred on the music of Tchaikovsky.

It is all too easy to deliver a surfeit of emotion on the temperamental Russian’s music, but to do so intelligently and without resorting to histrionics and over-indulgence takes some skill. The Polonaise from the opera Eugene Onegin could have sounded loud and over-powering, but the orchestra traded volume with cohesiveness and buoyancy. With the lovely cellos radiating sheer warmth and evenness, it made for an impressive curtain-raiser.

The Fifth Symphony, a favourite among visiting orchestras, is arguably the sanest and safest of Tchaikovsky’s final trilogy. The motto theme, which appears in all four of its movements, lends unanimity of ideas and unity to the work as a whole. The orchestra’s Resident Conductor Kazuhiro Koizumi (left), who conducted from memory, expertly guided the ensemble in its transformation, from despair and tragedy, though inevitable rushes of adrenaline and fulsome climaxes to eventual triumph.

There were glorious episodes aplenty, not least the silver-maned Sumiharu Arima’s heartrending French horn solo in the slow movement that ushered in further excellently crafted solos from the clarinet and oboe in counterpoint. Genuine tension and excitement also reigned in the finale’s inexorable drive to the edge of the abyss, before closing in a show of robust verve and spirit.

In between, the orchestra marvelously supported young Singaporean Lim Yan (left) in Grieg’s over-familiar Piano Concerto. Refusing to be drawn into barnstorming, his delivery from the opening cascade of octaves to the final resounding chords was on a measured side, but always came off subtle and sensitive. Straddling a fine line between restraint and reticence, the gloves came off to superb effect for the first movement’s Lisztian cadenza and the rollicking Norwegian dance of the finale.

This highly successful Japan-Singapore collaboration clearly demonstrated that the best of our young classical musicians can hold their heads high on an international musical platform.

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