A WEEKEND WITH BEETHOVEN
Victoria Concert Hall
25 February 2017)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 27 February 2017 with the title "Display of passion and vigour".
The orchestral works of Beethoven probably constitute the largest form of chamber music that can be performed comfortably at the “new” Victoria Concert Hall, which has developed a somewhat suspect reputation for over-reverberant acoustics and boominess. Those fears did not transpire in the pair of all-Beethoven concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra led by eminent Chinese conductor Yu Long, who is present Music Director of the China Philharmonic Orchestra.
The opening note and stentorian chords of Egmont Overture that followed were delivered with utmost precision and conviction, setting the stage for a performance that lacked nothing in passion and vigour. Short solos from oboe, clarinet and flute were also excellent, leading up to a final blaze of heroics which defined the ill-fated Dutch hero's defiant patriotism.
If the orchestra was bold and brassy in the opener, it soon changed tack and played sensitive partner to 12-year-old American Chinese prodigy Serena Wang's solo for the First Piano Concerto in C major. She more than held her own. Brimming with confidence, she projected well and clearly articulated every note and phrase with the nous of one three or four times as senior.
Playing accurately was never an issue, and hers were a nuanced reading which revealed an astonishing maturity. The 1st movement cadenza had sufficient bluster, and the romance-like slow movement radiated warmth and no little Mozartean charm. The Rondo finale had both lightness and ebullience, and none of the outrageous showboating that despoiled Lang Lang's 2010 performance with the SSO.
As if to further emphasise her fleet and nimble fingers, her encore of Debussy's Toccata (from Pour Le Piano) flashed through like a bolt of blinding brilliance. She is certainly ready to join
's elite brigade of young pianists: the likes of Wang Yuja,
Chen Sa, Wang Xiayin and Zhang Haochen. China
The same fervour that gripped Egmont Overture returned in the Seventh Symphony, where conductor Yu's interpretive insight provided a highly satisfying performance. Knowing how to build up tension in the discursive introduction to the vivacious 1st movement proper was key, and the end result was like the release of a tightly wound spring.
Enlivened, the music leapt from the printed page with the orchestra responding as if its sheer existence depended on it. The slow movement was just as good, its variations unfolding with great purpose, culminating in a very well delineated fugal episode.
The final two movements shifted gear from very fast to even faster still, and with no loss of concentration and pace at this risk-taking velocity. Richard Wagner had hailed this as the “apotheosis of the dance”, but nobody was going to replicate this on the Viennese dance-floor. Perhaps he had in mind Yu's nifty footwork on the podium as the supremo of Chinese conductors commanded his players on a headlong charge to what must be the most exciting reading of this symphony in recent times.