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Conductors' Festival of Hong Kong - Zhang Guoyong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2011, 12:00am

Conductors' Festival of Hong Kong - Zhang Guoyong
Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra
HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Reviewed: Apr 8

The Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra chose Zhang Guoyong to open this festival of performances through a competition for conductors of Chinese repertoire. Zhang's credentials include his status as a National Class One conductor of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Shanghai Opera House; for his doctorate in conducting at the Moscow Conservatory, he received the highest mark in the institution's history.

Shame on Hong Kong, then, for rewarding this reputation with such an embarrassingly small turnout of people, who sat in forlorn clusters around the stalls (the balcony was deserted). If there was a reason for this apparent cold shoulder, it certainly couldn't have been Zhang's podium manner: such economy of direction usually confirms that everything has been covered in rehearsal, leaving no need for empty flamboyance to plaster over the cracks.

Indeed, the orchestra responded to Zhang's precise baton with faultless precision in attack and blend, readily achieving the impressionistic atmospheres of works awash with mountains, moons, temples and the charms of nature. Full marks, then, for colour and focus. It was in revealing the music's hidden depths that found Zhang not so much wanting as under-employed: profundity seemed less concealed than absent, the six pieces each struggling to make a case for repeated hearing.

Alfred Wong's arrangement of Paganini's Caprice No 24 for flute (Weng Sibei) and orchestra succeeded only in dulling the virtuosic frissons of the original version for solo violin; Weng's technical brilliance brought more pleasure in Chung Yiu-kwong's Whirling Dance.

Wang Guotong provided the erhu solos in arrangements of Liu Tianhua's Flickering of Red Candles (too short to make an impression) and Zhou Chenglong's Taixing Mountain Capriccio, which had more to say in invention and variety. Wang Ning's Festivities was loose; Qian Zhaoxi's Seeking Dreams on West Lake had its moments, but superficial development of ideas rarely accommodates that third dimension for interpretation that allows a top-notch conductor to fully exercise his powers of insight, the ultimate pull for an audience.

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