MENDELSSOHN VIOLIN CONCERTO
22 September 2017)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 25 September 2017 with the title "Magical night by SSO".
This was one of those unusual concerts which featured two concertos performed by two different soloists. First was the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's Principal Trumpeter Jon Paul Dante in Johann Hummel's popular Trumpet Concerto in E flat major. Hummel was Mozart's student who once boarded in his household, and his sounded like the trumpet concerto Mozart never wrote.
Its long orchestral tutti and martial air relived of that in Mozart's Piano Concerto No.22 (also in E flat major), before Dante's confident entry established this as an extrovert showpiece. In the slow movement, where his long lines looked ahead to the operatic art of bel canto, the gentle string accompaniment was right out from that “Elvira Madigan” movement (from Piano Concerto No.21).
The finale was where Hummel surpassed his master, and Dante lapped up its acrobatic leaps and tricky repeated notes with glee. That infectious derring-do was exactly what trumpeters (and brass players in general) thrive on, and the effort was greeted with loud and noisy applause.
This excitement was later extended to Japanese violinist Daishin Kashimoto, First Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, whose performance of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor was just as pleasing. The natural fluidity of his technique meant that all the solo's twists and turns were comfortably negotiated with much to spare.
Rich in melodic interest, the songs without words within its three movements were wonderfully exploited but Kashimoto was not one to milk it purely for sentimentality's sake. There was some getting used to his slightly acidic tone, but this did little to detract from the overall picture, which was also vociferously applauded.
Of Johannes Brahms' four symphonies, the Fourth Symphony in E minor (Op.98) is often considered his greatest in the genre. Conducting from memory, SSO Music Director Shui Lan led a performance that was strong in objectivity, with swooning emotion kept at arm's length. The opening, formed by a series of seemingly bare two note phrases, could not have sounded less opulent.
That was the bedrock upon which an ultimately strong and convincing reading was built. From simplicity came forth origins of complexity, and the build up to the 1st movement's passionate climax was a gradual but inexorable progress worth following. Similarly, the slow movement's droll unison opening gave way to fine woodwind playing, gratefully reciprocated by the brass and gorgeous strings to scale yet more spiritual highs.
The rambunctious 3rd movement was thrilling in its unfettered release of adrenaline, affirmed by the humble and rarely-used triangle's ringing endorsement. The symphony's crowning achievement was its Passacaglia finale, where Brahms peered into the future by glorifying the past.
Shui's vision of its eight-bar introduction and 32 ensuing short variations was totally gripping, and if there were a defining moment, imagine this sound: Jin Ta's desolate flute solo, comforted by a trio of trombones, followed by the entire brass as a giant chorale. Simply unmissable.