Lament for a legend

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 October, 2009, 12:00am

Rozhdestvensky, the Legend
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Reviewed: Oct 22

This spotlight for a Russian musical icon barely found its focus, taking nearly 2 1/2 hours to illuminate little in a pair of core repertoire works.

The first performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto was a flop. Conductor Gennadi Rozhdestvensky threw us a few crumbs of stylish orchestral phrasing before letting his son drift through the work with little attempt to colour his neutral sound or convey anything that might have been in Beethoven's veins beyond the notes. The one compensation was Schnittke's quirky cadenzas, which proved a small oasis in this unimaginative landscape.

Gennadi Rozhdestvensky was 22 when Shostakovich premiered his acerbic Symphony No 10 following Stalin's death in 1953: both men had the anguish of a world war and a dictatorial regime burning their backs, but the combination of fear, loathing and uncertainty that permeates the score was absent.

The first movement was beautifully ironed by a precise baton, but where was the bile? The second movement is a savage commentary on Stalin, yet the snare drum sounded more like a typewriter than a rivet gun slamming nails into his coffin. The remaining movements were also tepid in relaying the temperature of Russian society at the time.

One should emerge from this symphony emotionally hosed down, like a blanket sodden with horror, yet hopeful for the future. It didn't happen; maybe this is how the stuff of legends fades.