Wednesday, March 14, 2012

REVIEW: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Daniel Harding

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Sunday March 3

In this 40th Hong Kong Arts Festival closing event, it had both some of the best and worst performances in the festival. The worst performance came from the audience filled with VIPs and government officials where they didn’t just clamor to be seen, but also insisted that they are heard in between movements through their applause. The best performance came from German baritone Christian Gerhaher.

In a matter of six-months, Hong Kong witnessed three of the top 6 of Gramophone magazine’s world greatest orchestras (published in December 2008), and all in the same hall. In October 2011, we had the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (ranked no. 3); and in February and March this year, we had the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (ranked no. 1) and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (ranked no. 6). I had the good fortune of seeing all three and with or without price consideration, it is the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra that was the best; and unfortunately, I have to say that the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra came last.

The orchestra, known in Germany as the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, started this second night performance with Mahler songs occupying the first half. Two songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn opened the evening and Gerhaher’s rendition of Wer hat dies Liedel erdacht immediately established his mastery of this genre. The Rückert-Lieder followed with the same splendor. While listening to him and the orchestra, he reminded me of Mathias Goerne (who performed with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra last October). This is not because they sounded similar, but instead, they sounded quite differently, yet I like both of them! The difference was more than just the voice but also their interpretive style. Gerhaher’s has a more lyrical voice that is expressive but not dramatic. He achieves nuances through dynamics and shifts in timbre that communicate directness and sincerity. Goerne, on the other hand, is dramatic with a deeper and rounder voice and a broader palette of colors that communicate involvement and empathy. The orchestra, led by Daniel Harding, provided a most sensitive and supple accompaniment to Gerhaher.

In the second half, Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat, WAB 105 was performed. I have to declare that the piece itself doesn’t do much for me BUT Daniel Harding’s reading of the piece could possibly be the best amongst what I have heard. Harding began spellbindingly solemn before giving way to the calls of the brass. The entire performance came across musically solid and emotionally spontaneous. I would have preferred the tempo in the Scherzo held back a fraction to reflect a more leisurely yet confident atmosphere. Overall, it was a glorious achievement full of wit and joy. Boy, I wish they played something else!
Bavarian Radio Symphoney Orchestra
Conductor, Daniel Harding

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Two songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
- Wer hat dies Liedel erdacht
- Rheinlegendchen
- Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder
- Ich atmet' einen linden Duft
- Um Mitternacht
- Liebst du um Schönheit
- Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen

Baritone, Christian Gerhaher

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Symphony No 5 in B-flat, WAB 105
- Adagio - Allegro
- Adagio
- Scherzo: Molto vivace
- Finale: Adagio - Allegro moderato

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