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Review: Jaap's Beethoven 5 by the Hong Kong Philharmonic

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 October, 2013, 6:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 12:46pm

Jaap's Beethoven 5

Hong Kong Philharmonic

HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Reviewed: October 18

The audience came to hear Beethoven roar, and it took a while for them to settle down for the first half of works by Schubert and Strauss.

Matthias Goerne sang with entrancing tone, commanding in the low register, dulcet in the high range.

At one point, he scolded an audience member for taking photos. After that the audience, which had been rustling and coughing, was quieter and fell under the spell of the music.

The Schubert songs tell stories, and the Strauss songs are even more operatic. Both composers have magic in the setting of specific phrases, for example the words "silence of joy" ending Strauss' Morgen. That must be the best musical depiction of "silence".

After the interval the Beethoven 5 Allegro con brio started with welcome vigour under the baton of conductor Jaap van Zweden (pictured).

The four-note figure of fate, ta-ta-ta tum, remains pregnant with meaning to this day and it is wonderful to hear how Beethoven uses it in so many moods and guises. This was an athletic and dramatic interpretation, and the players were committed.

However, it was like looking at a landscape from afar. The tempos were fast and perhaps some notes needed more time to bloom; rhythmic flexibility in spots could have given it more living breath.

In the opening to the second movement, Andante con moto, the joys of precision were shown by the cellos as they played with one voice in the lyrical melody.

The following earthy tune, excellently played by the brass and percussion, was a great contrast. The woodwinds were delightful. There was one mistaken early entrance, just a reminder that these are real humans, not a DVD.

At the end of the third movement, Beethoven had the violins wander around, not too clear on the key, which was a wonderful preparation for the light of the fourth movement.

Here, Beethoven depicts triumph with C major and a lot of brass. The most amazing moment of precision was the accelerando near the end. The beats change constantly but all the players reacted seamlessly.

This generated a burst of energy for the rousing finish Beethoven would have wanted.

Alexis Alrich

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