Monday, 30 August 2010

SSO Concert: The Spectacular Seventh / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (28 August 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 August 2010.

When the Singapore Symphony Orchestra invites a guest conductor to lead over two consecutive weeks, it is a sign of faith and confidence in the maestro’s leadership and training abilities. German conductor Günther Herbig is one of a select few who enjoy that privilege, and the second concert of his two-week residency was proof of that.

Under a master of Austro-German repertoire, the symphonic pairing of Schubert’s Fifth and Beethoven’s Seventh worked like a dream. The teenaged effort by the former was a study of Mozartian grace and lightness.

The orchestra’s reading of its clean and clear lines came across with the freshness of morning dew, the bright and chirpy spirits providing the lift and lilt the music needed. Has the love-forsaken and often tormented Schubert (above) ever sounded this happy?

The grittier but no less congenial Beethoven seemed like its ideal counterpart. Ironically, Beethoven in 1812 was already flexing his Romantic muscles while an 1816 Schubert basked in Classical finery. Despite that, the temptation to gush in adrenaline was resisted in a performance that was as finely honed as it was invigorating.

For a symphony with no true slow movement (the most deliberate tempo being Allegretto), it never felt frenetic or rushed. The opening movement’s prolonged introduction gave way to brimming exuberance aided by Jin Ta’s excellent flute solos. The emotional core of the work unfolded in the Allegretto, and like a steady heartbeat building to a heady climax.

While pace gathered inexorably for the last two irresistible movements, it never strained at the reins, guided by some benevolent force of reason and will. That force was, of course, Herbig’s unfaltering vision that helmed these shows of nobility and grandeur.

The concerto segment saw Russian violinist Denis Goldfeld tackle Henryk Wieniawski’s (left)popular Second Violin Concerto. He has a refined and cultured sound, sounding most comfortable in the slow and probing moments, such as the achingly beautiful Romance.

When it came to the more fiery sections, his tone hardened and rhythms became less stable. This resulted in a brief lapse in the gypsy finale and the scramble with the orchestra towards the end was a case of safety first. All was forgiven, however, in the perfect encore from Bach’s unaccompanied Partita No.2. That was where his truest sympathies lie.

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