Strongly dynamic reading
ANTON von Webern's orchestration of the six-part Ricercare from J S Bach's revered Musical Offering opened the evening. Under the baton of the young American conductor Steven Smith, the orchestra appeared sluggish to adjust to Webern's superb pointillistic arrangement, which renders a baroque counterpoint through kaleidoscopic tone colours.
The taxing requirement from all departments was evident throughout and the flow of the opening piece seemed marred by the arrangement's difficulties. The final crescendo sounded strained and the brass was particularly coarse, losing the serene beauty of Bach.
The focus of the concert, though, was Hungary-born violinist Gyorgy Pauk, who champions the music of compatriots such as Bela Bartok. The 1982 Gramophone award winner tackled the technically demanding Brahms Violin Concerto with tender loving care.
His genuine affection and passion for the piece was evident not only in his bow, but also in his facial and body expressions throughout the piece. His reading was one of lyricism which sang through his 1714 Massart Stradivarius.
The violin entry in the first movement did not start off smoothly and it seemed to take Pauk a while to tune in to the orchestra. But that became insignificant when what followed was such glowing romanticism and warmth.
The high point of the concerto was Pauk's flawless display of both lyricism and bravura in the first movement.
Pauk molded the second movement with autumnal beauty and the third with sparkling intensity. The fiddle's intonation might not have been impeccable at times, but the passion was always there.
The orchestra provided very strong accompaniment but the effects were not always compatible with the soloist's lyrical reading.
Beethoven's Symphony No 4 was given a big-band interpretation on the same line as the Third and the Fifth. The formidable size of the strings produced more than sumptuous sound, often competing with the thundering timpani throughout the composer's supposedly lighter symphony.
The Cleveland-based conductor's was a fierce reading with biting urgency, often driving the orchestra to its technical limits. The winds section, which plays a key role throughout, was held breathless.
Apart from a major slip by the oboe in the first movement and some weak horn work, the overall performance was solid and clamorous, bringing out the full dynamism of Beethoven.
Wild About The 3Bs Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra City Hall Concert Hall