Monday, 28 February 2011

SSO Concert / Renaud Capuçon Gala / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (26 February 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times
on 28 February 2011 with the title
"Capuçon and a lesson in music".

Naming this gala concert after the renowned young French violinist was a shrewd marketing ploy, when it was a lesson about music from the classical era, a period lasting from the 1760s to early 1820s. Only 34 years separated the three works, beginning with Haydn’s Symphony No.44 (1772), nicknamed Trauer (or Mourning), his first in a sombre minor key.

SSO does not perform enough Haydn, but it accepted the challenge gratefully by not treating it like a makeweight. Supple unison strings created an uneasy tension from its outset, one that permeated its 20 minutes. Dark clouds gathered for the first two movements, fully conveying the essence of sturm und drang (storm and stress). The slow movement, although in a major key, was no less serious. Little wonder Haydn requested it be played at his funeral.

Mozart’s Symphony No.38 in D major (1887), named the Prague Symphony (his favourite city), was a far more jolly affair. The orchestra shifted gears accordingly for the mellifluous melodies that filled its congenial three movements. Snippets from operas (Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute) were quoted, and did one notice the second subject of the second movement?

Someone suggested it could have been the source of Elgar’s Enigma theme of his famous orchestra variations. At any rate, Shui Lan who conducted both symphonies from memory, commanded the first hour with great charm and aplomb, setting the stage for Renaud Capuçon’s appearance.

For these ears, their collaboration in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major (1806) came close to the perfect version. No apologies were made for performing in the “traditional” manner, far removed from the astringent sound preached by the period performance movement. Orchestral tuttis were full and heroically conceived, and Capuçon’s “Panette” Guarnerius violin (once belonging to Isaac Stern) breathed a fulsome and awe-inspiring vibrato.

A dynamo packed into a compact frame, his sound was huge, and the choice of Fritz Kreisler’s dazzling and Romantic cadenzas fit like hand to glove. The slow movement was particularly eloquent and beautiful, before happily leaping into the hay of the finale’s jocular Rondo. While no encore could come after such sublime music, Capucon obliged with one – the lovely Melody from Gluck’s Orpheus.

Renaud Capuçon will perform more Beethoven – his Violin Sonatas – with pianist Frank Braley today and tomorrow (Monday and Tuesday) at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. Don’t miss that!

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