Season Opening Gala Concert

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 September, 2010, 12:00am

Season Opening Gala Concert
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Reviewed: Sep 2

It seems incongruous for the city's flagship ensemble to celebrate its seventh season under artistic director Edo de Waart as an accompanist for a cut-and-paste evening of opera arias. Odder still to programme trite ballet music from Gounod's Faust to showcase the orchestra during an extended break from the vocals.

Mozart got a token spot preluding the Romantics, but opening with Parto, parto from La clemenza di Tito wasn't going to get the juices flowing, at least not with mezzo-soprano Ning Liang's headlong approach relegating Andrew Simon's obbligato clarinet part to the wings.

The conversational Madamina, il catalogo e questo from Don Giovanni might have proved a similar squib but for the resounding presence of bass-baritone Shen Yang, who signalled that party time had arrived. Winner of the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, his is a remarkable voice with no constraints, each note full-toned, focused and faithful to the text.

Shen's command of the stage was replicated in tenor Warren Mok's brace of short Puccini offerings, zapping us into the interval with a no-nonsense Nessun dorma - perhaps a bit too no-nonsense.

Soprano Zhang Liping's beautifully cultured voice was more at ease with Puccini's Vissi d'arte than Dvorak's Song to the Moon.

The orchestra supplied workaday links in music by Mascagni and Bizet. But with several new faces in the ranks, one looks forward to hearing them play the more challenging Mahler's Symphony No7 this weekend. Shen returns with them in songs from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Don't miss him.