City Hall Concert Hall
Reviewed: May 18
The Sinfonietta's associate conductor Jason Lai directed this disparate but enjoyable four-item programme, except during Vivaldi's Recorder Concerto, when soloist Stefan Temmingh held sway - literally. With knees bent for most of the performance, eyes glued to the music yet occasionally swivelling to look at his accompanists, the Dutch-South African with red shoes and gold collar (below) resembled a virtuoso Pied Piper.
He reminded us that the baroque era was a throwaway society as far as music was concerned; fresh entertainment was the order of any soirée and Vivaldi's work for the humble recorder certainly engaged us at that level here. Cellist Chang Pei-chieh's perfectly judged contributions on the continuo line were equally compelling, if more modest in delivery.
Fast forward to Enjott Schneider's Omaggio a Vivaldi, a three-movement, 15-minute work for string ensemble, harpsichord and a variety of recorders that premiered in 2011 and is dedicated to Temmingh. Schneider's experience as a writer of film scores is pre-eminent in the attractive first movement with melodically quirky, fast-changing fragments that are colourfully scored for the strings. However, the tenor recorder's voice was lost during the opening section of the second movement, while the finale struggled to break any significant new ground.
The orchestra gave Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 a visibly committed performance. Lai's well judged tempi provided an appropriate framework for the mood-swinging drama that permeates the work. While one missed a bit more breathing space between melodic statements and a bigger contrast in colour between segments, his sense of controlled urgency throughout the piece felt right, except during the opening, where the strings were too heavy to reflect Sibelius' balanced scoring.
The second movement's unfolding tension was well plotted; the third romped along at a cracking pace with the string section's plethora of notes delivered with clarity; and the finale's climaxes were approached with intelligent control before being let loose.
The brass were on excellent form, delivering their recurrent high spots with a fine blend and balance, topped out by principal trumpeter Fung Ka-hing's laser-sharp leadership.
An atmospheric but emotionally tempered performance of Avo Pärt's Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten opened the programme.