Thursday, 14 October 2010

THE JOY OF MUSIC FESTIVAL 2010, Hong Kong / Evening One / Review


The London Chamber Orchestra group

with PASCAL ROGÉ, Piano

City Hall Concert Hall, Hong Kong

Monday (11 October 2010)

The Joy of Music. Can anything quite express these feelings of sheer exhilaration on encountering the wonder and magic that is music, one of the purest forms of art? All this is distilled within a week-long festival in Hong Kong, organised by the Chopin Society of Hong Kong. In its fourth edition since 2006, held during the gap years between the Hong Kong International Piano Competition (also organised by the Society), more gems emerged. The first evening, helmed by a quintet from the London Chamber Orchestra, opened with positive rarities. Leopold Mozart and Michael Haydn are probably better known for their famous relatives, but their music can stand proud on the strength of craftsmanship rather than sheer inspiration. The elder Mozart’s Frog Partita is a short divertimento-like work, both light-hearted and engaging, featuring violin, cello and bass. The younger Haydn’s Divertimento in E flat major, for viola, cello and bass, began with a Theme and Variations of no uncertain charm. While not masterpieces, the works enjoyed excellent ensemble work and immaculate intonation throughout from the London group.

First violinist Andrew Haveron (left) then broke off on his own to give a fearlessly virtuosic account of Eugene Ysaye’s Third Sonata (Op.27 No.3), also known as the Ballade. He mastered the complex polyphony, cruel dissonances and concluding fireworks with great aplomb, befitting the finalist of the 1997 Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competition, once named after Ysaye himself. This unusual departure provided a vital link to the next piece, Debussy’s String Quartet, which in 1893 was premiered by Ysaye’s own quartet.

The Debussy, is simply, a masterpiece that was accorded the gravitas it deserved. At once, the quartet produced a muscular but warm sound, marked by its incisiveness of attack. Within its pages, the quartet negotiated flawlessly between in-your-face fortissimos and intimate pianissimos. The Scherzo’s pizzicatos and ostinatos were deliciously lapped up, Debussy’s interweaving rhythmic and gamelan effects vividly realised. Joel Hunter’s viola excellently shaped the slow movement’s opening statement, and the paced relaxed but there was little let up in the emotional quotient. The finale began with Pierre Doumenge’s cello theme, which set the tone for the powerful showdown, reprising the first movement’s main themes. Debussy looked far into the future with this quartet, its chromatic though not atonal language placing it firmly within the pantheon of great 20th century works.

Everything listening of Cesar Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor reveals new vistas and truths. Its dour and oh-so-serious demeanour belies a tender and vulnerable heart. The quartet’s descending opening theme starkly contrasted with pianist Pascal Rogé’s relaxed, almost casual musings. This juxtaposition of fire and ice, both scorching in their intensity, made for a gripping performance, which grabbed one by the scruff of the neck and did not let go till its 35 angst-filled minutes passed. Tension reigned high throughout, and even in the calm of the central slow movement, it laid the seeds for the finale’s assault on the senses. Shaded in dark grey, the music moved ever so menacingly. Unrest in the strings and bare piano octaves ratcheted the sense of anguish ever so unremittingly that it threatened to boil over. This performance topped the 2006 reading of the same work at this same festival, by Rogé and a different set of LCO string players. The joy of chamber music is in living the moment, and the quintet on stage fully rose to the occasion. That’s how it should always be.

Note: Matthew Ward replaced Magnus Johnston on 2nd violin for all the concerts involving the LCO quintet group.

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