Monday, 2 April 2012

SSO Concert: Russian Extravaganza / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (30 March 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 April 2012 with the title "Beautiful delivery of rare Russian work".

Once in a while, a concert throws up a work that is totally unknown or unheard of, either from neglect, esotericism or whatever reasons, the unique opportunity of listening with new ears and reassessment gratefully presents itself. This was the case with the hour-long ballet Les Ruses d’amour (Love’s Trickery) of 1898 by Alexander Glazunov, which had a rare but totally welcome airing under the baton of Gennady Rozhdestvensky.

Anyone who adores Tchaikovsky would warm up to Glazunov’s (left) score, which besides being unremittingly melodious also gave orchestral musicians much scope for virtuoso solo playing. Han Chang Chou’s French horn, bold and confident, set the tone and it was a enjoyable ride through its 21 short movements.

Completely devoid of dissonance or neuroses, these dances provided sheer aural pleasure, not least in the fairyland music of Marionettes’ Dance, dominated by tingling high pitched instruments, including piccolo, xylophone and triangle. The musical high point, however, was the duet of Isabella and Damis, where concertmaster Alexander Souptel’s violin and Ng Pei-Sian’s cello romanced longingly in a loving pas de deux of exquisite beauty.

It was a stroke of inspired programming that included music from a second Russian ballet, Prokofiev’s aborted Ala et Lolli, within the same sitting. It is amazing how only 18 years separated both stage works, as the younger composer’s attempt to outdo The Rite of Spring so disgusted Glazunov that he walked out on its 1916 premiere.

The deafening din and dissonance of the Scythian Suite, aided by twelve percussionists (including piano and celesta), well and truly maxed the sonic capabilities of the hall. Seldom has the decibel level been breached with such terrifying vehemence and intensity, yet the ensemble was also capable of whispering pianissimos in the night music sequence.

In between both ballets was the First Cello Concerto of Shostakovich (left), undoubtedly Glazunov’s greatest student. The German guest soloist Jan Vogler ran the full gamut of its expressive extremes, from droll humour in the outer movements to the vale of tears of the Moderato and cadenza. His steely tone, so aptly applied, would also melt into the most poignant of sighs when called upon.

The irony of Shostakovich’s idiom was never far away, with Vogler’s sobbing cello provided with a mocking counterfoil in Marc-Antoine Robillard’s excellently helmed French horn. On this evening, the patrician conductor Rozhdestvensky presided over a gem of a concert. Compared with last week’s Brahms brouhaha, this even longer concert seemed like a breeze.

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