Hong Kong Arts Festival

Hong Kong Sinfonietta at the Hong Kong Arts Festival review: a world premiere, a brilliant soloist and a Bartók favourite

Programme brilliantly showcased the playing of Hong Kong orchestra and guest viola soloist Maxim Rysanov, and featured first performance of Samson Young’s novel Such Sweet Thunder

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 5:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 5:47pm

A world and Asian premiere and a late Bela Bartók concerto were part of a daring and challenging Hong Kong Arts Festival programme that marvellously showcased both the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and guest soloist Maxim Rysanov.

Sunday evening’s world premiere of Such Sweet Thunder for recorded bell sound, narration and orchestra by multifaceted experimental Hong Kong composer Samson Young Kar-fai began this evening of classical music in unconventional fashion.

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Young’s auditory approach to documenting and notating random bell sounds (from extensive field work) and the depiction of conflict associated with them was expressively narrated and acted by dramatist Sean Curran.

Young fascinatingly used the recorded bell sound with orchestra (including tubular bells) and intertwined these sounds with fragments from the opening of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral”, depicting both duality in nature as well as in bells.

Peteris Vasks’ compositions are, according to the Latvian composer himself, “stories that send a message about the existence of ideals, the possibility of harmony, and above all, the greatest force in the world – love”. His 2015 Concerto for Viola and String Orchestra is no exception.

Bathing in the warm, sonorous writing for string orchestra – lovingly provided by the Sinfonietta’s music director and conductor Yip Wing-sie and the troupe’s strings – Rysanov (dedicatee of the work) felt completely at home, and demonstrated his luscious and focused viola playing.

A prevailingly slow and serene four movement concerto (Andante-Allegro moderato-Andante-Adagio), it contains two extended solo cadenzas (monologues that give soloists ample opportunity to embellish their stories.) In both of them, as in the fast rhythmic Allegro moderato, Rysanov’s strong technique and rock-solid intonation was impressive.

Bela Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, composed in 1943, consists of five movements and remains one of his most accessible and popular works. Its slightly ambiguous title Concerto (rather than Symphony) is due to the fact that every instrumental section is treated in a virtuosic way. The orchestra under Yip certainly rose to the technical challenges posed by the Hungarian composer, largely delivering precise and energetic playing.

Both outer movements, composed in a classical sonata-allegro form, were well paced by Yip. The first movement’s slow and brooding Introduzione. Andante non troppo gave way beautifully to the Allegro vivace and its series of fugato passages for the brass instruments, all performed with precision, especially by the horns.

The jesting second movement “Game of Pairs” Giuoco delle Coppie. Allegro scherzando, provided opportunity for the winds to have fun. They did indeed, each different pair of instruments (bassoons, oboes, clarinets & flutes) joyfully portraying their differing harmonic profiles with fine ensemble and intonation.

Based on thematic material from the first movement’s introduction, the third movement’s death song Elegia. Andante non troppo was aptly nostalgic, dark and misty.

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The frolicking folklore melodies in the fourth movement Intermezzo Interrotto. Allegretto with its quirky 5/4 and 5/8 rhythms and cheeky clarinet entry were delightful, as was the whirling virtuosic fifth and final movement Finale. Pesante – Presto, complete with fugal fireworks and folk melodies, making for a rousing and fitting conclusion.

Maxim Rysanov & Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall

Reviewed: February 25