Tuesday, July 5, 2011

REVIEW: De Waart's Pathétique with HKPO

Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday July 2

This final installment of HKPO’s Tchaikovsky Festival started off with the Polonaise from the opera Eugene Onegin. After a nervous start, the HKPO led by Maestro Edo de Waart slowly got into the swing. While the orchestra sound may not be crisp, flexible rubato and well-sprung rhythm were in large amount stressing the beauty of live performance.

The Swan Lake Suite was the highlight of the evening for me. Not only because it has a very special place in my life, but also because it was played extremely well. For some reason, the music from Swan Lake tends to bring me back to my early years of saving up money and buying the cheapest ticket I can find to see the ballet. In particular, the pas de deux scene with the glorious cadenza for harp perfectly set the scene (by Christopher Sidenius) for the violin (masterly played by the guest concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich). In my mind, the image of Japanese prima ballerina Yoko Morishita was never far. By the time the cello responded passionately (by Richard Bamping), I was no longer in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre anymore.

After the interval came the title piece of the evening. Pathétique is not very far from Tchaikovsky’s 4th and 5th symphony in terms of subject, which is the power of Fate in life and death. The composer led the first performance of Pathétique in Saint Petersburg on October 28 1893; and nine days after, he died. Suddenly, Pathétique became a curiosity; some believe it was a “symphonic suicide note”. The fact that Tchaikovsky asserted that there was a program to the symphony but would not divulge it just made the suicide theory even more popular.

Musically, Pathétique tends to be in danger of being vulgar and manipulative, more so than the 4th and 5th, when handled improperly. The twists and turns of this musical roller coaster posts a lot of challenges in achieving balance between the conflicting emphases of expressiveness and good taste. As for Maestro de Waart, balancing act is his forte. In fact, any hysteria was totally avoided and by the time the finale ended, one just felt the depths of despair were laid bare. The only part that I wish was done differently was the Allegro con grazia, as it felt a bit too loose and it missed the opportunity to alleviate the persistent sense of gloom.

Tchaikovsky Festival: De Waart’s Pathétique
1 & 2 July 2011
Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Eugene Onegin: Polonaise
Swan Lake Suite
Symphony No. 6 Pathétique

Conductor: Edo de Waart

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