Monday, 18 May 2009

SSO Concert: Signature Tunes (Season Finale) / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Lan Shui, Conductor
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (15 May 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 May 2009.

The final concert of SSO’s 2008-09 concert season had all the ingredients of a Gala Concert, with gallery seats behind the orchestra filled to the brim, a celebrity soloist who drew standing ovations, and a bemused orchestra playing overtime.

Beginning with Debussy’s Images, played complete, the orchestra took some time to settle. The very quiet first page of Gigues could have arisen more subtly as several solos opened their accounts without the requisite mystery and stealth. It was left for Pan Yun’s lovely oboe solo to soothe edgy nerves.

A decision was made to play the third tone poem Rondes De Printemps (Dances of Spring) next, so that the piece would end with the fireworks of Iberia, the trilogy’s best-known part. This strategem worked well, because much attention was lavished on its details, especially the colours and dynamics of the sensuous Fragrances Of The Night, which lingered long in the memory A deliberate and almost fussy procession in Morning Of A Festival made for a curious close to the first half.

Then came the crowd-pleaser: Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto. The Russian pianist Boris Berezovsky (left) is blest with a natural facility that it can easily be taken for granted. Multitudes of notes were tossed away with such nonchalant ease that one wondered if he ever broke into a sweat. Operating within a narrow emotional range for much of the first movement, large tracts of music seemed guided by auto-pilot.

Only in the large chordal cadenza and the second movement did he emerge from his shell, and the instinct was to play faster and louder, with the orchestra struggling to keep up. One began to sense a lack of engagement; has over-familiarity dulled his responses to this intoxicatingly exciting music? Nevertheless, the final effect - illusion or otherwise - was one of breathtaking virtuosity and for some, spellbinding brilliance. The audience roared its heartiest approval and voted with its feet.

Three encores beckoned, including two Préludes from Op.23, the first in D major (No.4) played so fast to have missed a sniff of its bouquet, and a second in G minor (No.5) which seemed about right. Lan Shui and the orchestra abetted with a repeat of the concerto’s final febrile pages, a cue for further frenzied applause. Berezovsky and Co. certainly knew the first rule of public relations: the customer is always right.


Chang Tou Liang said...

This performance of Rach 3 was the polar opposite of the one given by Andrei Gavrilov and the SSO (under Okko Kamu) in 2000. While Gavrilov was fidgety, highly-strung, self-conscious and over-the-top, Berezovsky's was cool, absolutely in control and ultimately aloof. Highly flawed as it was, Gavrilov's was the more engaging and far more entertaining.

Has anybody given the perfect Rach 3 in Singapore? Demidenko (with Okko Kamu) in 1997 and Hamelin (with Lim Yau) in 2005 (from second hand acounts as I missed that one) would have come close. One of my most cherished memories was the one given by the 14-year-old Juh Hee Suh (with Choo Hoey) way back in 1982.

Steven said...

a 14 year old playing Rach 3rd? I'll have to see it to believe!