Monday, 7 May 2012

SSO Concert: A Night In Vienna / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (4 May 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 7 May 2012 with the title "Time stood still for the Night".

The title of the concert might have led one to imagine this to be an evening of Johann Strauss, but reality was quite something else. The first half was light enough, with a rare performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.14 in E flat major (K.449) with Filipino pianist and Singapore resident Albert Tiu as elegant soloist. A departure from his usual repertoire of Rachmaninov and Godowsky, he proved himself completely adept with Mozart’s buoyant pulse and flowing lines.

Even when all three movements called for different facets of one’s musicianship, these opportunities were wonderfully exploited. A suitably martial pose was struck in the opener, contrasted with melting lyricism in the slow movement, and clockwork precision to round up the finale’s counterpoint-rich series of variations. Tiu’s immaculate reading was topped with an unusual encore, the Beatles’ Hey Jude in the style of a Bach-Busoni fugue by Francois Glorieux.

All this was merely an excellent starter for Bruckner’s glorious Eighth Symphony, in what must be one of the great moments for this provincial Austrian composer’s music in Singapore. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra under Shui Lan has proven their credentials in Mahler’s symphonies beyond any doubt, and perhaps Bruckner’s time has surely come as well.

The two composers, often mistakenly linked at the hip by all and sundry, could be no further different from each other. The only common link was they both wrote long and loud symphonies. While Mahler’s were journeys from death to redemption and the habitual pondering of one’s mortality, Bruckner’s conjured up cathedrals of sound filled with visions of salvation and the celestial kingdom.

At 77 minutes, Shui’s account conducting the Leopold Nowak edition of the symphony could not be accused of being long-winded. Despite a tentative and uncertain start, the musicians settled down quickly for the first of many orchestral climaxes Bruckner was so fond of. As expected, the strings had their usual svelte quality that smoothens out potentially rough spots, but it was the brass that had a field day.

The uncommon sight and sound of four French horns and four Wagner tubas was one to behold, as they led the charge of angels through the hectic Scherzo and basked in the glowing radiance of Bruckner’s finest Adagio. Time stood still for this Beethovenian gradual unravelling of themes till it reached its final crest of ecstasy, and 26 minutes had elapsed as if in a flash.

If the finale sounded overlong and repetitious, it was because the miracle of the Adagio had proven the theory of relativity, but the forces soldiered on for a triumphant close. Every listener should however be spared of the orgasmic yelps of “Bravo!” from certain members of the audience the moment the music ended. A few seconds of stunned silence instead of crass one-upmanship would have been more appropriate in the face of such sublime art.  

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