Monday, 18 July 2011

SSO Concert: Demidenko plays Prokofiev / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (16 July 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 18 July 2011 with the title "Requiem for Leong".

Russian pianist Nikolai Demidenko has been such a consistent and rock-steady guest soloist with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra that there is not a season that passes without him appearing in a concerto or in recital. This outing was however the first time he played a piano concerto by fellow Russian Sergei Prokofiev.

Not just any concerto, but the fearsome Second Concerto in G minor (Op.16) in a first performance in Singapore since the mid-1990s. Regarded as the most taxing and technically challenging alongside the popular Rachmaninov Third Concerto, his was not a conventional view of the work.

Mere digital brilliance came second to the dark and grim insights into a self-destructive human psyche. His deliberate drawing out of tempos, especially in the monumental first movement cadenza and grotesque third movement, fuelled the idea of this work as a requiem for a tortured soul. Add an unrelenting full-frontal assault on the Scherzo and tempest-tossed finale, his single-mindedness and granitic resolve marked this as one of the memorable performances of the year.

The concert opened with two works by the Singaporean “Father of Composers” Leong Yoon Pin, originally programmed to celebrate his 80th birthday. His passing in April however turned this occasion into another requiem. His memory was celebrated by a joyous reading of the festive Giocoso Largamente from his Second Symphony and the symphonic poem Feasting In The Woods.

The latter’s evocative opening flute solo was unfortunately marred by latecomers finding their seats. This more complex work presented a profusion of ideas and themes, one reflecting shifting emotional states of mind, before resolving in an optimistic climax of string ostinatos and tubular bells. The splendid trumpet solo to close quietly was the great man’s understated gesture of saying “Happy Birthday!”, humble to the very end.

The second half was reserved for Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony in A minor (Op.44), the second performance by the SSO within four months. Music Director Shui Lan and his charges have a strong identification with the Russian’s music and idiom, which made for another strong showing. Not one to resist its luscious melodies, these were milked for all their worth, with climaxes driven to fever pitch.

The orchestra will be recording this work in the coming weeks, and judging by this showing, it is going to be a resounding success.

1 comment:

Chang Tou Liang said...

Nikolai Demidenko's encore was Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor (Op.posth), a quiet relief after the prounding Prokofiev.