Monday, 1 July 2013


Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (28 June 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 July 2013 with the title "Macedonian pianist a delight".

Youth was the unifying theme of the works presented in this evening’s SSO concert conducted by Music Director Shui Lan, as every note was composed when both Sergei Rachmaninov and Frederic Chopin were barely out of their teens. The evening began with two excerpts from Rachmaninov’s one-act opera Aleko, after on a short story by Pushkin, which was his graduation piece.

The brief but dramatic Introduction and syncopated Gypsy Men’s Dance bore certain hallmarks of the brooding and melancholic Russian but still sounded heavily influenced by his mentor Tchaikovsky. Also an early piece was the symphonic poem Prince Rostislav, a setting of Tolstoy, with its sedate opening that immediately reminded one of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture.

Its murky beginning, set in the depths of a river, could have sounded more mysterious. Subtle pianissimo playing does not always come easily to the orchestra, but this improved with the surging main theme that was more recognisable as Rachmaninov. Somewhat meandering by way of development, this was not one of his best scores. Nonetheless Shui’s charges put on a spirited showing, even if this is not going to eclipse his later works of the form, The Rock or The Isle of the Dead.

Arguably the highlight of the concert was to be Chopin’s First Piano Concerto with the Macedonian Simon Trpceski as soloist. The prize-winning pianist seemed to delight in the work’s abrupt shifts in dynamics, such as entering with loud and emphatic chords and octaves and exaggerating certain gestures for effect.

Accenting grace notes, prolonging a pause and stretching out a rubato passage were ear-catching for certain, but that did not get in the way of a silky cantabile which was the composer’s most distinguishing feature. The dreamy Romanze came through beautifully as a nocturne-like interlude, and all the stops were pulled for the exciting Rondo finale that closed the work.

As the concert proper ended early, just five minutes after nine o’clock, no way was the audience allowed an early ride home. There were three generous encores, an elegant Chopin Waltz in A minor sandwiched by two Macedonian pieces which were a trademark of Trpceski’s performances.

Known for introducing little-known folk-influenced music from his homeland to worldwide audiences, he was aided and abetted by leader Lynnette Seah, whose violin playing sounded both idiomatic and ravishing in these jazzy dances from Skopje. Whoever thought the land of Alexander the Great would also be the home of great entertainers as well?    

No comments: