Hong Kong Philharmonic

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 November, 1997, 12:00am

Hong Kong Philharmonic, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Friday Playing the notes is one thing. Making music is quite another. But if the Hong Kong Philharmonic's reading of Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto emphasised duty rather than pleasure, its performance of Ravel's ballet Daphnis et Chloe glistened with the freshness of morning dew.

The programme opened with the march and scherzo from Prokofiev's The Love of Three Oranges. To this pair of attractively frothy pieces, Tianjin-born conductor Shao En delivered tight rhythmic discipline and a forward, positive response.

Such rhythmic precision, however, was one of the many casualties to be visited upon the Russian master's Violin Concerto No 2. An orchestra which was too large exacerbated a wooden, pedestrian and note-bound reading which seemed clearly under-rehearsed.

Under these circumstances, soloist Barry Wilde was given little opportunity to shine.

However, rarely have orchestra and conductor caressed Ravel's exquisitely-wrought textures and subtle harmonies with such devoted passion.

Even among those hallowed works conceived by the legendary Diaghilev in Paris' banquet years, Daphnis et Chloe occupies a unique position.

Its continuous melodic fertility, harmonic subtlety and constantly changing orchestral timbres reveal themselves with a lightness of touch and ironic humour that is unparalleled in the orchestral repertory.

So rich is the music, that it seems to suffer no dislocation when wrenched from its original function as ballet music. Indeed, the performance evoked the lithesome grace which Nijinksy and Karsavina must have brought to the title roles in the 1912 premiere.

Shao En's profound understanding of Ravel's idiom shone right from the superbly ethereal opening depiction of the sacred grove in which the mythical action takes place.

The Prokofiev was a performance to perish, the Ravel one to cherish.