Monday, 9 November 2009

SSO Concert: Choo Hoey Returns / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (6 November 2009)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 November 2009.

For devoting 17 years of his career as Music Director of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, it was only appropriate that Choo Hoey be invited back to conduct in its 30th anniversary season. And what leaps and bounds the orchestra he had painstakingly created and nurtured made in the interim.

True to form, Choo delivered yet another Singaporean premiere. Debussy’s Printemps (1887) predated the far more familiar Afternoon Of The Fawn by seven years. The orchestration by Henri B├╝sser also opened with an atmospheric flute solo, lovingly crafted by Evgueni Brokmiller. This ushered into a luxuriant sound world, straddling between Romantic and impressionist hues, one in which the orchestra was coaxed into a picaresque reading that gently arched from delicacy to ecstasy.

The orchestra then played accommodating partner to young British violinist Chloe Hanslip (left) in Tchaikovsky’s swashbuckling Violin Concerto. Here too much restraint seemed at odds with the diminutive Hanslip’s raging hormones, big tone and outsized gestures. The orchestra trailed in her wake for much of the quicksilver passages as she blazed a fiery path through hell and high water.

Although far from the perfect performance, it had lots of personality and adrenaline, while squeezing every last drop of Romantic excess thought possible. Choo took the supporting role in his stride, after all it was he who introduced the extravagant talents of Lang Lang, Di Wu and Jin Li in their first performances here.

The piece de resistance went to Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony, the sort of work that SSO excelled in its early years, and which showcased the orchestra on its first overseas tour to Scandinavia in 1985. Choo’s view of the work remains untainted by effect for effect’s sake, carving out an honest to goodness reading in which the orchestra responded with warmth and genuine sympathy.

The second movement had every thing going for it. Lush strings, delicate wind solos, concertmaster Alexander Souptel’s lovely cameo, and an insouciant pastoral opening ambling into blustery pathos, all made for an enjoyably scenic ride. The Slavonic dances that ensued and closed the work also had room for sentimentality, before reveling in a faux-pompous climax and ending.

Receiving a chorus of cheers from the audience, Maestro Choo – all of 75 years young – showed there was still much fire in his belly.

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