Monday, October 24, 2011

REVIEW: Paul Watkins with HKPO

Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday October 22

This has to be one of the most satisfying HKPO concerts I have ever been to!

Considering that this was the 10th performing arts event I have seen in October (averaging 1 in every two days) and I saw Murray Perahia and Steven Isserlis just a few days earlier, I thought that I would start feeling quite indifferent. In fact, I thought of the possibility of just attending half of the concert, thinking that the concerto will be in the first half. But instead, HKPO (or maestro Mark Wigglesworth) has decided to conclude the concert with an overture; thus the concerto was placed in the second half. The sequence did make sense though, I mean, just think of how Beethoven’s Pastoral starts and how Wagner’s Tannhauser Overture ends.

Mark Wigglesworth, in his Hong Kong debut led the HKPO outstandingly. Balance and contrast were the strengths of the evening. Wigglesworth maneuvered through each piece maintaining markings and styles while delivering depth, clarity and weight. The outcome was both compelling and thrilling.

On Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 Pastoral, Wigglesworth stayed true to the tempo markings and shaded the phrasing and dynamics in a way that I imagine realized what the composer wanted the music to achieve. The music swayed and took flight; particularly in the second movement, the woodwind principals were most effective in portraying inebriated country folks.

Elgar’s Cello Concerto is a tough nut to crack (see my review of Alban Gerhardt with Halle Orchestra). In a lot of cases, the cello tended to sound underplayed, even though Elgar provided much “room” by utilizing more of the top and bottom registers of the orchestra. Wigglesworth, however, worked the orchestra around the cello and allowed Paul Watkins to be very effective even in the more introspective melancholy passages. Watkins live for the melody, he phrased them beautifully. While he tends to sway a tad excessively for my taste, his sound was never flamboyant or mannered. Definitely one of the better live performances of this concerto I have ever been to.

Ending the concert, Wagner’s Tannhauser: Overture showcased Wigglesworth’s mastery of opera. With more members in the orchestra, there was a good deal of stirring playing that reflects the different aspects of the powerful drama depicted in the music.

Elgar's Cello Concerto & Beethoven's Pastoral
21&22-10-2011, Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No.6 Pastoral
ELGAR: Cello Concerto
WAGNER: Tannhauser: Overture

Mark Wigglesworth, conductor
Paul Watkins, cello

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