Trey Lee Nostalgia - A National Day Celebration
Hong Kong Philharmonic
Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Reviewed: September 27
There were three titles for this concert. If that doesn't suggest an identity crisis, the construction of the programme did.
As though designed by a committee, the second half comprised a single masterpiece from the catalogue of Western music, balanced by a first half of seven items rooted in Chinese folk music. Averaging around six minutes each, they actually took much longer since the stage had to be reset to accommodate the different performing resources, from full orchestra to string orchestra, plus a fleeting appearance from erhu soloist Wong Lok-ting.
The conductor was Zhang Guoyong, president and artistic director of the Shanghai Opera House. He wields a straightforward baton, which drew a tight response from the philharmonic.
The Chinese repertoire on offer was well suited to this no-nonsense approach; emotional moulding of expressive melodic lines, rising and falling with abandon, is much more of a Western indulgence. Wang Xilin's Torch Festival proved an interesting exception.
We were swept along in blocks of primary-coloured sound through folk-song arrangements and rearrangements of works by Liu Tianhua ( An Enchanted Evening) and Hua Yanjun ( Reflection of the Moon on Er-Lake), living for each sweetly melodic moment that passed by.
A National Day Celebration seemed an appropriate description at this stage, although playing to an audience that was thin in numbers suggested the party hadn't quite got off the ground.
"Trey Lee - Nostalgia" bore some relevance to soloist Trey Lee's performance of Dvorak's Cello Concerto. But what nostalgia had to do with it was a mystery. Lee's bright tone sang against the orchestral backing, riding on some nifty finger work that served expressivity more than flamboyance. But Zhang's concept of interpretation remained on the wrong side of the globe, note-spinning from one bar to the next with little appreciation of the work's bigger picture.
"Holiday, Pops and More", the banner title for the evening, felt increasingly irrelevant as the evening progressed. As the programme notes argued: "Folk meets high art? Where great music is concerned, perhaps the combination is more intriguing." On this occasion, perhaps not.