Sunday, 7 August 2011

SSO Concert: Rhapsody / Review

RHAPSODY / Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall / Friday (5 August 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 8 August 2011 with the title "Pianist Sudbin in smooth control".

As orchestral concerts go, this was one which may be described, in football parlance, as a game of two halves. The first was of Russian familiar favourites while the second featured a totally obscure symphony never previously performed here.

Prokofiev’s First Symphony, or the Classical Symphony, opened accounts with a slickly coiffed reading with not a hair out of place. The pace adopted for the outer movements was swift but not driven, with the slow movement’s singing strings gliding over its rhythmic accompaniment as perfect contrast. This is the polish that one has come to expect from SSO under music director Shui Lan in standard repertoire.

It is not often that a guest soloist appears twice within a calendar year, but the young Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin has returned. There is good reason, as he has just recorded Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini with the orchestra for a forthcoming release on the BIS label.

As in previous outings, his consistency and smooth control in this virtuoso warhorse was a delight. The variations unfolded with great ease, like a seasoned storyteller spinning a yarn. In case one wondered if this was merely clockwork efficiency, there were also genuine touches of individuality from the pianist.

This included a lingering moment, almost amounting to a pause, in the famous 18th Variation just before the glorious entry of the strings, for dramatic effect. After romping home in the concerto, his two encores Рboth Pr̩ludes by Rachmaninov (in G major and G minor) Рsent the audience rushing out to buy his CD recordings.

Most of the house remained to hear the Singapore premiere of Hungarian Romantic (left) Karl Goldmark’s Second Symphony in E flat major. Its inclusion has to do with the fact that the orchestra had earlier recorded his far better known Rustic Wedding Symphony, and this was to be its companion on disc.

A pleasant if not totally memorable work would be a fair way to describe it. Its Germanic influences meant that one felt the guiding hand of Schumann and faint snatches of Brahms in the mix. It was the Mendelssohnian scherzo of the third movement that made one sit up. Its fairy-light elfin dance which gave way to a Victorian trumpet solo – full of churchy overtones and marvellously played – was worth the price of entry. One would probably not hear it again for another hundred years.

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