Monday, 5 October 2009

SSO Concert: Rare Occasion / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (2 October 2009)

Classical music lovers here have rarely had it so good, with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra performing Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony followed by Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony in consecutive concerts, with the Formula One Grand Prix wedged somewhere in between. One thing is for certain, there are far more Mahlerites than Brucknerians in Singapore, judging by the number of empty seats in the latter concert. Are there more than a few souls who feel that Bruckner’s symphonies are overblown, rambling and repetitious?

This will sound sacrilegious but only Bruckner can make a 60-minute symphony sound more protracted than an 80-minute Mahler symphony, despite the best efforts of the SSO under Principal Guest Conductor Okko Kamu (left). The ensemble was well disciplined, with the martial opening movement gathering steadily pace and momentum before entering the Austrian composer’s vaunted cathedral of sonority.

The strings projected their usual warmth and sumptuous sheen, best heard in the slow movement, arguably the symphony’s most sublime music. Little wonder that critics and observers were led to ironically hail Bruckner as the greatest “composer of Adagios”.

Elsewhere the brass choirs worked overtime, and their efforts were close to spectacular. This was however exacted at a cost, as the music swung wildly between bucolic and bacchanalian, lurching from one overwrought climax to another before closing with a definitive big bang. To these ears, an hour of Bruckner was an exhausting and enervating experience that yielded less than the sum of the parts.

Far more eventful was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor (K.466) that began the evening. American pianist Anne-Marie McDermott (left) dealt a game of contrasts, with grit and grace in equal measure. Although she was far from note-perfect, there was enough character in her playing to stand out from routine.

As the orchestra played it safe for most part, she emphatically did not. While the central Romance was a model of classical beauty, the outer movements bristled with the storms and stresses that rendered this work a masterpiece. The finale, for example, had uncharacteristic touches of violence that jolted the senses. Abetted by Beethoven’s beefy and oversized cadenzas, delivered with forceful conviction, all this made for an unusually invigorating outing.

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