Young conductor steals the show
Pianist Norman Krieger's presence was almost superfluous. He is a sensitive, poetic artist, and his Mozart is gorgeous - but the young American conductor Samuel Wong provided the miracles of the evening, and his debut here will be long remembered.
Krieger's work was Mozart's 24th Piano Concerto, but rather than showing off the musician, this is a virtual symphony, its sonorities unsurpassed, its structure as tragic and monumental as the 40th Symphony.
Wong led the orchestra in that opening movement with urgency, passion and mounting tension. The winds played superbly, the horns offered the calls of fate - and somewhere in the middle, Krieger tried to make his instrument more than a mere obliggato. Try as he might, the semi-quavers sounded a bit decorative next to the tautness of the orchestra.
The second movement was Krieger's, a study in simple poetry (and some fine scurrying measures from the woodwinds). Only in the finale, that movement of Mozart magic which flies to the extreme of joy and sadness, could one realise how brilliant the pianist was, the variations becoming more and more elevated.
But it was Wong's night. A protege of Zubin Mehta, he has worked with the New York Philharmonic as well as other major orchestras, and from his work on Saturday, he deserves real praise.
The opening Magic Flute overture admittedly started off shakily, but the frugal allegro was played with crisp transparency. But the final Dvorak Seventh Symphony showed just how uncommon he is. Eschewing the usual Dvorak charm, Wong offered a brittle, tense, sometimes searing work.
The tragic introductions heralded fearful fanfares, an introverted slow movement. Rather than the erratically rustic scherzo, Wong produced a hard-driven third movement, leading to the majestic end.
It was a striking close to a momentous concert.
Hong Kong Philharmonic; Norman Krieger, piano; Samuel Wong, conductor; Cultural Centre Concert Hall, January 4