Soloist captured Ravel's gypsy mood with style

But Brahms would have despaired because the conductor failed to grasp his intentions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2013, 5:21pm

Brahms One
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall

In terms of the overall quality of instrumental sound, this concert got the thumbs up. The HK Phil players were impressive throughout the ranks, particularly concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich who stepped up as soloist in Chausson's Poème and Ravel's gypsy-rooted Tzigane.

The latter presents technical and mood-setting challenges that Yuzefovich met with élan, bouncing off a colourful accompaniment in which conductor Jun Markl conjured up earthy bracken and liberating alcohol amid well modulated tempo changes.

Chausson's depiction of fervent love, however, begs more subtlety: no libidinous Don Juan here; more of a cathartic experience. While Yuzefovich pitched the elasticity of the emotional range well, Markl's support needed more limpidity to match up. The opening introduction, for example, was short on the required delicacy for funnelling in the soloist's forlorn entry.

Markl tended to over-conduct, which at times turned leadership into distraction. Launching into Berlioz' Le Corsaire overture with hurricane force, he still managed to apply detailed effects to successive phrases.

Whether or not these needed such ostentatious gestures is moot, particularly when several flicks of the baton tried to bring in the cellos several bars early. The monumental shadow cast by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony intimidated a number of his 19th-century successors, not least Brahms who took until the age of 43 to produce his First Symphony. He himself despaired of conductors who failed to grasp his intentions; today is no different, with the camps generally divided between those who aerate the work with an elegant bloom and those who go for an opulent, in-your-face approach. Markl took the latter route.

The finale's conclusion may have delighted with its intensely burnished sound, but the chillingly demonic start of the movement was devoid of imagination; Markl ignored Brahms' expression marks in the ensuing horn declamations, gaining nothing in the process.

The third movement side-stepped Brahms' demand for a light, gracious atmosphere, charging ahead with little breathing space to characterise the wealth of contrasting melodic motifs. The second movement's structure was at least made intelligible by observing Brahms' detailed dynamic contrasts, pumped up here to high romantic proportions.