Wednesday, April 14, 2010

REVIEW: Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in Taipei

The expectation was not high yet the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra still fell short.
The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra conducted by Long Yu performed at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan last 6th of April. It didn’t escape me that the program book just simply mentioned the venue as “Taipei” and nothing about the “National Concert Hall” as I believe that the word “National” would have been too political. I can’t help thinking “politically” also because the whole atmosphere was charged with it. The concert coincided with the visit of the Mayor of Shanghai, the Mayor of Shanghai was in the audience, tycoons and CEO’s were also there, the audience was over-enthusiastic, security was tight, and media people were all over the place.

The first half of the concert featured 3 singers: soprano Ying Huang (last seen in Hong Kong as Pamina in the opera The Magic Flute), Hong Kong’s very own tenor Warren Mok, and baritone Changyong Liao. I kind of expected that Ying Huang would be the best amongst the three of them, while Changyong Liao would be the least. Boy was I wrong. Ying Huang was in poor shape in her performance of Je Veux Vivre from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. While the tone was sweet, she had some pitch problem. The problem became more obvious in her second song I Live at One End of the Yangtzi River (a very popular Chinese art song by Qing Zhu), where she had difficulty sustaining some of the fluid high notes. Warren Mok performed Fond de Temple Saint from Bizet’s Les Pecheursde Perles with Changyao. The rendition was respectable but very idiosyncratic. Warren also performed the ever-popular Nessum Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot. The performance was ample if one did not have to look at him. Changyong Liao gave a solid performance in both his solos, Largo al factotum della Citta from Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Huang Zi’s Homesickness. His robust baritone voice shaped each phrase beautifully with histrionics in check.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in e minor, Op. 64 filled up the second half. The performance was quite unbalanced with the strings dominating most of the times. While the strings have significantly improved based on my experience with the orchestra years ago, the sound was bland. The strings sounded as if the orchestra has been issued standard instruments all from the same factory rendering a solid sound yet not rich and lack in color. But then I could be wrong, the audience seems to like the performance so much that there was passionate applause even in between movements.

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