Monday, 7 March 2011

Claus Peter Flor with the Conservatory Orchestra / Review

The Conservatory Orchestra
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Friday (4 March 2011)

An edited version of this review was published
in The Straits Times on 7 March 2011
with the title "Sweet but short rhapsody"

Every year, the Conservatory invites a prominent musician to be its Ong Teng Cheong Visiting Professor, and spend a week in residency conducting masterclasses or training its orchestra. The eminent German conductor Claus Peter Flor, Music Director of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, proved to be a big hit with his younger colleagues.

It was a short concert by any means, but one not lacking in quality of playing. For Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, Flor brought out a direct and unfussy reading. A swirling vortex of clear string sound emerged from the depths of basses, and when the violas and cellos sang out the familiar flowing melody, it had the pristine quality of fresh spring water.

Climaxes were gradually built up, resounding with a plethoric boom that was not always comfortable, but that had to do with the hall’s harsh and strident acoustics.

The slow movement followed with nary a break, and seemed to take its walking pace a little too briskly. This soon settled down to a goodly tempo, allowing another series of ebbs and flows to rise and recede with similar ease. Despite woodwinds faltering for a few moments midway through, the performance had much to commend.

Concertante works occupied the second half, spotlighting Head of Strings Qian Zhou’s gorgeous violin tone. Eugene Ysaye was the dedicatee of Ernest Chausson’s rhapsodic Poeme, where an element of fantasy reigned. Supported by the grouped strings’ warm chorale playing, her seamless narrative unravelled with matchless beauty.

A different kind of playing was called upon for Bartok’s First Rhapsody, written for Joseph Szigeti. Here an earthy, rough-hewn texture made the opening recruiting dance tilt with a rustic Magyar swagger. Then the pace quickened, and so did free-wheeling solo, which got increasingly tipsy - but never in expense of control – all the way till the final brusque chord.

Brahms’s popular Fifth Hungarian Dance was the appropriate built-in encore, brilliantly paced by the band responding to Flor’s every glance, nod and minute gesture. Want to hear another one? Both obliged with the Sixth Hungarian Dance, and it was an equal pleasure following the podium choreography. It was evident that all on stage were having a ball of a time.

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