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Reviews: Petrushka

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 5:47pm

Petrushka
Hong Kong Philharmonic
HK Cultural CentreConcert Hall
Reviewed: Sept 20

Classical composer Frédéric Chopin is known as a Romantic, but it's his almost mathematical complexity that gives his music brilliance. The layers of filigree, melody and harmony form overlapping patterns that create a scintillating surface with an undertow of driving bass lines.

Pianist Louis Lortie performed Chopin's Concerto No. 1 in E Minor with both poetry and power. He played torrents of notes with ease, used rubato with eloquence and exploded with devilish left hand trills and pounding rhythms.

Despite the best efforts of Canadian conductor Jean-Marie Zeitouni and players, Chopin's orchestration sounded somewhat pale. The Rondo à la Krakowiak in the last movement was the only time the orchestra and piano meshed as true partners.

In Stravinsky's puppet tale Petrushka the orchestra was dazzling, with Zeitouni delighting in every detail. From the first moment of murmuring woodwinds the room was filled with radiant sound. Each section had an ear-catching treat, from clouds of harp, celesta and glockenspiel to growls from the contrabassoon. The large brass section played as one with thrilling intonation and timing.

Principal flute player Megan Sterling impersonated the magician of the story with a beguiling solo. Stravinsky's mathematical side consists of quick changes in meter and tempo which were all handled with ease by Zeitouni. Like Chopin, Stravinsky is fiercely complex, holding together layers of clashing notes and offset rhythms with simple folk-like tunes.

Opening the concert was John Estacio's Brio : Toccata and Fantasy for Orchestra, which showed skill in orchestration, grateful use of the instruments, solid themes and a lucid structure. This is the composer's first piece for orchestra and I was listening for his unique voice.

He then led us through an angular brass fanfare, well-written solos for clarinet, oboe, English horn and trombone, a warm string elegy, sweeping strings with chattering flutes and grand climaxes with cymbals and full orchestra.

This was more than a bit reminiscent of John Williams, but given the difficulty of having new pieces performed, Estacio was wise to use a familiar musical idiom. Now now that he's broken the ice I hope he reveals more personal expression, complexity and even quirkiness.

Alexis Alrich

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