Saturday, 6 October 2012


Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Thursday (4 October 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 6 October 2012 with the title "Unfamiliar, engaging Americana piece".

As Singapore Symphony gala concerts go, this one was unusual because only one out of three works performed was familiar to the audience. And it certainly was not John Adams’s Lollapalooza, composed in 1995 for British conductor Simon Rattle’s 40th birthday, five minutes of minimalist ostinatos and rhythmic chugging.

It made for an engaging opening act, because it was not one of those mind-numbing play-by-numbers stunts but a rather sophisticated piece of Americana that had all the sections of the orchestra responding to its clockwork cues with utmost precision. The brass, with its dominance in the key themes, was particularly good.

Lollapalooza is American slang for something big and important, which certainly applied to the supposed main event with French violinist Renaud Capuçon starring in Brahms’s Violin Concerto. His rather slight built belied a large, generous sound which he projected for this most extrovert of solos. Never overawed by the orchestra, he was always on top of things with flawless intonation and a searing command of its alternating tricky and lyrical passages.

He performed the more traditional Joachim cadenza rather than the unusual Kreisler version of his recently issued recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, with an enviable control that was matched only by Rachel Walker’s exquisitely beautiful oboe solo in the slow movement. A hair-raising Rondo finale, as if balanced on a tight rope, completed this most invigorating of performances. As if to play down his own achievement, and acknowledging that of his very worthy partners in the orchestra, he did not offer an encore.

For the second part, the Uruguay-born Viennese conductor Carlos Kalmar presided over a most unusual symphony choice, the rarely performed Fifth Symphony in F major of the Czech nationalist Antonin Dvorak. Having being accustomed to the frankly overplayed Eighth and Ninth (New World) Symphonies, this was a welcome change.

Dvorak was beginning to cut his teeth as a symphony composer, and this 35-minute long work combined dramatics to be found in the Seventh Symphony and rusticity of the Eighth Symphony to good effect. It was an easy listen, cheerful in most part but coloured with a Mendelssohnian sad tune (which means it isn’t particularly sad) for the slow movement.

The cheery Slavonic Dance of the third movement was a lift for the spirits, and the finale that swung between nervous tension to moments of sheer sentimentality was all part of the composer’s good humoured disposition. The performance brimmed with energy from start to finish but most of all, the orchestra played like it enjoyed itself and was willing the audience to do the same.     


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