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Classical music

Review: Hong Kong Philharmonic principals shine in timpanist’s world premiere and Haydn showpiece

Jaap van Zweden coaxes out the personality of HK Phil timpanist James Boznos’ new work, gives principals room to excel in Haydn Sinfonia Concertante, and delights in the detail of Dvorak symphony

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2016, 1:52pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 2016, 2:13pm

The successful relationship between a conductor and an orchestra depends on mutual respect and understanding. These qualities were on abundant display in the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’s Starring Principals concert.

The programme opened with the world premiere of Oikogeneia (Born of House), Book 1, Op. 14a composed by the HK Phil’s timpanist James Boznos.

The work is a collection of pieces devoted to his family members, 21 in total, although only the first seven pieces were presented here. The work is dedicated to the orchestra’s conductor, Jaap van Zweden, who would seem, therefore, to be an honorary member of his extended family.

Each piece has its own personality, drawn from the composer’s observations but restricted to a mere seven non-chromatic notes, which unifies the collection. Under the baton of van Zweden, the characters and their backgrounds emerged and, as one would perhaps expect from a percussionist, contained a plethora of complex rhythms. This was most clearly evident in the last piece of the Book 1 collection, Krupa’s Cataphracted Lion Dance.

Continuing with the theme of respect, the principal players were afforded the opportunity to shine in Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante in B flat.

The work was a result of a contract in which the impresario Johann Peter Salomon had asked Haydn to write a series of works for London audiences. It is unclear who the soloists in the first performance were, but here the four principals – Richard Bamping (cello), Jing Wang (violin), Michael Wilson (oboe) and Benjamin Moermond (bassoon) – brought clarity, assurance and brilliance to their respective roles.

Wilson was clearly the shining force here, as he managed to capture the required crispness of the running passages, exquisite phrasing and nuance in dynamic shadings.

Van Zweden took the opening and closing movements at a relatively conservative pace, presumably to allow the soloists to have greater opportunity to project the melodic detail. It was a pity that the delicate middle movement ended with mispitched notes in the horn section, as beautiful control was in evidence elsewhere.

The timpanist and the soloists (barring the bassoonist) returned to their regular roles for the final work on the evening, which was also first premiered in London, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor.

Van Zweden was more animated here and successfully brought out the necessary detail with his somewhat unorthodox gestures. The work is full of pathos, oscillating between gloomy moments and beams of optimism.

Highlights included the extensive second movement, with its fickle emotional palette and exposed interplay in the woodwind section, as well as the grand finale. The work ends with a possible reference to its inspiration, the people of Dvorak’s Czech homeland, that’s rousing, triumphant and defiant.

Starring Principals, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall.

Reviewed: December 3