Friday, 16 October 2009

SSO Concert: Unfinished Masterpieces / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Schleswig Holstein Festival Choir
Victoria Concert Hall
Sunday (11 October 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 13 October 2009.
While the Singapore Sun Festival occupied the Esplanade stage for all of the last week, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra returned to its humble home at Victoria Concert Hall for two concerts with the German conductor Rolf Beck.

The first of the “unfinished masterworks” was Schubert’s popular Eighth Symphony in B minor, left with a torso of two movements as the syphilis-stricken composer sought solace elsewhere. Yet many will consider the piece complete in itself with its well-balanced and contrasting halves.

This performance luxuriated in a very deliberate tempo, expansive in its narrative, as if building to something really major. That big moment never really materialised, however one was treated the lovely cantabile of its famous second theme, sung by the cellos.

The development was equally stolid, behaving like pages from Bruckner when more contrasts could have been expected. Much of the same applied to the slow movement, stretching the work to about half an hour, longer than the usual duration. Slow does not necessarily equate with profundity, as this drawn-out reading proved.

No such worries with the Mozart-Sussmayr Requiem in D minor (K.626), which was judged close to ideal. The 32-member Schleswig-Holstein Festival Choir (left) generated a big volume despite its size, and was subtle and responsive, capable of varying its colour and tone as the music demanded. The four soloists, soprano Aneta Mihaylova, alto Milda Tubelyte, tenor Patricio Aroyo and bartone Florian Hille, were also well-matched and acquitted their roles in an exemplary manner.

Genuine tension mounted in the Kyrie, and the Dies Irae spewed with fire and brimstone. These heaven-storming moments however demonstrated why, after 22 years at the Old Vic, the move to the Esplanade was necessary and inevitable. Fortissimos sound congested and even harsh, something that would have been less of a consequence across the bay.

The quieter sections were a joy, and rarely has the Lacrimosa resounded with such gravitas. As the reposeful Lux aeterna and ensuing Requiem aeternam drew the concert to a sublime close, one is kept wondering how Victoria Concert Hall’s forthcoming renovation (if ever) will pan out. Acoustic nirvana or an overpriced dud? Watch this space.

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