Atherton and Atherton

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 January, 2011, 12:00am

Atherton and Atherton
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Reviewed: Jan 7

Sounding like a firm of solicitors, Atherton and Atherton is in fact David (conductor father) and Elizabeth (soprano daughter), and a jolly good family business they made of Britten's Les Illuminations, too. Scored for solo voice and strings, the latter were on fine form, responding to Britten's gratifying writing with tenderness, gutsiness and a roster of shades in between; the tonal range in Being Beauteous was particularly affecting.

Elizabeth's (right) voice - pure, focused and blessed with an easy agility - reflected Rimbaud's abstruse poetry convincingly. Phrase was as scrumptious as you could wish for, and Marine found its inner whirlpool of excitement with aplomb. What she lacked, however, was a better mastery of French diction: vowels just passed muster, consonants were anaemic.

Programming the music from Act Two of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker just after Christmas could have proved a performance that goes through on the nod, a stream of well-posited notes, but unconvincing without the tights and tutus. Not so. Atherton achieved good speed laced with flexibility, faultless balance and etched attractive details on the all-too-familiar score. He also conjured up a far meatier string bass sound than usual and coaxed delicious moments from the cellos.

Opening the programme, Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments was inaccessible. The stark contrasts that rotate through the work were played as barely differentiated characters. The care for balance, so apparent in the rest of the programme, seemed abandoned; everything was churned out with the same podgy texture in which lead lines were constantly obscured. It was a puzzle to understand why the alto flute and clarinet passages were inversely weighted, and to appreciate the rationale behind the final stretch where everything got lost in a sonic fog.