Monday, 22 October 2012

SSO Concert: LYNN HARRELL / Review


Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (19 October 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 22 October 2012 with the title "Strings shine in a feast for the senses".

The title of this concert, bearing the name of the great American cellist, gave a clue to only part of the whole story. String Fantasies might have been a more apt title, because besides the obvious main-event of Harrell’s involvement, the concert was a showcase of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s much praised and vaunted strings.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, one of the great all-string repertoire works. Here the ensemble was split into three groups: a quartet of soloists led by concertmaster Alexander Souptel and violist Zhang Manchin, a large body of strings, and nine players seated high up on risers. The idea was to create a cathedral-like sonority with choruses of strings playing off each other in an antiphonal manner.

The chant-like unison of the main theme drawn from The English Hymnal came with much homogeneity, and the other voices soon blended in seamlessly. From muted sotto voce building up to a wave-like fortissimo, this multi-layered masterpiece was worked to magical and spine-tingling effect.

SSO woodwinds were not ignored, as they too shone in Brahms’s Second Serenade in A major, a curious youthful work that omitted violins completely. Low strings mostly played accompaniment to the fine solos and ensemble work with flautist Jin Ta and oboist Pan Yun being the chief protagonists. It was also interesting to note the young Brahms’s early stab at symphonic writing, and how he organically worked on its simple themes within the five movements.  

The second half saw Lynn Harrell make his second appearance in Singapore as soloist. Now in his late sixties, sporting a silver mane and Hemingway-like beard, he cut an imposing figure in Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, an extended symphonic poem with a significant cello obbligato part. Written in the form of ten continuous variations, there was much scope for fantasy and imagination in its programmatic layout.

Harrell’s commanding sound and vivid characterisation of Cervantes’s eccentric knight errant had the perfect foil in violist Zhang Manchin’s platitude-spewing Sancho Panza, and this seemingly unlikely tandem was played to the hilt. All this could have been negated but for the excellent ensemble offered by Shui Lan’s orchestra and direction, which was crucial in the musical story-telling. From battling windmills, bleating herds of sheep to imaginary flights of fancy, this outing aided by Marc Rochester’s eventful programme notes was a veritable feast for the senses.

Lynn Harrell is united with young Singaporean cellist Loke Hoe Kit who was the top cellist in the Lynn Harrell Concerto Competition organised by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra several years ago.

No comments: