Monday, 4 October 2010

SSO Concert: Mischa Maisky Gala / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (1 October 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 4 October 2010.

It has been 24 years since the legendary Latvian-born cellist Mischa Maisky last appeared on a Singapore stage. When he performed Saint-Saens’ compact First Cello Concerto with the SSO at Victoria Concert Hall in 1986, the only regret was that not more cello music was heard.

At this SSO Gala Concert bearing Maisky’s name, restitution was afforded with one concerto, two concertante works, an encore and a lively post-concert interview. Much like the photos that adorn his Deutsche Grammophon recordings, Maisky appeared larger than life. Sporting a shock of silver mane, neck jewellery nestling within a loose fitting black shirt (which became bright blue after the interval), he resembled a swami fresh from some Indian ashram.

All ears were on him and his 1720 Domenico Montagnana cello when they poured heart and soul into Fauré’s Elegie, supply shifted from whispering lament to full-throated cry. His tone was warm and gorgeously projected, as one would have expected. In Lensky’s Aria from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin, the tenor voice morphed into mellow baritone in Maisky’s transcription, but the poignancy of impending death was ever-present.

The main work on show was Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, his only cello concerto by default. The SSO under Music Director Shui Lan provided discreet support in its lightly textured orchestration, and The Maisky Show was truly on. Taking every liberty possible, he spun a freewheeling yarn around the simple dance-like tune. From coaxing a loving cantabile to dizzying flights of fancy in the 5th variation’s cadenza, this was what the full-house audience came for.

There were the odd missed note or squeak dropped in the heat of the moment, but that did little to detract from the real essence of the music making. True artistry occurs when one momentarily forgets about issues of right or wrong notes, or the world’s woes. Time stood still for the encore, the pensive Sarabande from Bach’s Fifth Cello Suite. Has Bach ever sounded this modern?

For the record, the orchestra also performed Zhou Long’s The Rhyme of Taigu and Debussy’s La Mer, the latter accompanied by SSO first violinist William Tan’s stunning marine photography projected on a screen. More to come about the orchestra’s European tour showpieces in another review. This evening belonged to the genius of Mischa Maisky.

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