Saturday, May 5, 2012

REVIEW: Beethoven 9 – The Moment of Farewell with HKPO

Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday April 21

I think this review is the tardiest I have ever been, excluding of course when I was going to performances abroad and have two performances each day. Work lately has been quite tough but in some ways quite fulfilling. Particularly, one project has kept me at the edge of my seat last week with its possibility of falling through. Luckily, it didn’t; in fact, it was a small victory for me!

It has been two weeks since I saw the concert; and tonight, I am seeing another one, thus I know that if I don’t get this out, the impressions will collide and overlap and I will mess them up... so here it goes. 

When the programme was announced at the start of the season, I have to admit that the focal point of this concert for me was never Beethoven anyway; it was Susan Graham and Berlioz. Of course as the date came nearer, the “farewell” aspect of the occasion became apparent. The concert hall was packed and the importance of the evening was palpable. This is THE LAST PERFORMANCE of Maestro de Waart as the Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of HKPO!

The evening started with American mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and Berlioz. The last time I saw Susan Graham in a live performance was her Donna Elvira role debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2004 (with Karita Mattila as Donna Anna and Bryn Terfel as Don Giovanni!). Needless to say, she was fabulous and I of course expected same fabulousness in her rendition of Berlioz’ La Mort de Cléopâtre… She totally exceeded my expectation! Susan Graham gave a performance of genuine warmth, haunting intensity and dark awareness of the ominous death of the Queen. During the performance, I can’t help but have this vision of a surfer maneuvering the wave with great ease, passion and flair. Maestro de Waart’s accompaniment was beautifully judged; while the tempi may have been a bit measured, it was to the pleasure of savoring Graham’s artistry.

The second half definitely had the feeling of an “occasion”, it is the great Ninth after all! Overall, Edo de Waart and the HKPO gave a fine account of it. It had the right drive without the brooding weight of drawn out drama; and the breadth of superb rhythm and pacing. Each soloist was great on their own, but as an ensemble, there was a bit of disparity. At the root of it, I am afraid, is soprano Lisa Larsson’s tendency to slide from one note to the other. Bass-baritone Mark Schnaible gave an inspiring performance, while tenor Henry Choo (whom I saw before as Almaviva in 2007 Opera Australia’s The Barber of Seville in Melbourne’s The Arts Centre) showed a beautiful lyrical voice that knew how to blend with the others. As for Susan Graham, she can do no wrong. The Shanghai Opera House Chorus turned in a beautiful and full-on performance. However, in some segments, the sopranos were a bit over-stretched and uncharacteristically under the note. But still, it was a great Beethoven 9th performance for such an important evening.

P.S. Between the two B’s, the French was the highlight, all because of the Dutch, the Hong Konger and the American.


Edo de Waart Festival: Beethoven 9 – The Moment of Farewell
20&21-4-2012 Fri; Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

BERLIOZ: La Mort de Cléopâtre
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No.9

Edo de Waart: conductor
Lisa Larsson: soprano
Susan Graham: mezzo-soprano
Henry Choo: tenor
Mark Schnaible: bass-baritone
Shanghai Opera House Chorus

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