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Review: Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 11:11am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 11:11am

HK International Chamber Music Festival
HK Academy for Performing Arts Jockey Club Amphitheatre
Reviewed: January 16

The second programme in this week-long festival took "The Great German Lineage" as its theme, featuring works by Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms.

The festival has an array of supporting events in addition to the performances. On Thursday, Dr Richard Kogan, the American pianist, physician and psychiatrist, gave a pre-concert talk on "Musical Genius and Mental Illness". He postulated that Schumann suffered from bipolar disorder; the composer was plagued by mood swings, attempted suicide and spent his final years in a psychiatric institution. The two Schumann works that opened each half of the programme, however, are joyous, betraying no hint of their creator's inner turmoil.

In the plucky Violin Sonata No 1, Augustin Hadelich and pianist Joyce Yang (below) set the bar so high that the rest of the performances paled in comparison. Unfailingly responsive to each other and to Schumann's intentions, they gave an exemplary display of subtle invention, variety of colour and complete unanimity in delivery. Clarinettist Burt Hara's performance of the Three Fantasy Pieces Op 73 barely compared. Reading every note from the score, he failed to match the nuances of tone that characterised Jon Kimura Parker's accompaniment.

Beethoven's String Quartet No 9 was given a spirited outing by the Miró Quartet, particularly in the opening movements: the first was astutely paced, allowing clarity in the busy inner lines; the second drew a transforming lid on itself, impressively exploring a much smaller sound world while still retaining a lilt in its step. The third begged for more rhythmic character, however, while the finale's unrelenting torrent of notes, although deftly despatched, fell short.

Cellist Jian Wang and violist Toby Hoffmann joined the Miró Quartet for Brahms' String Sextet No 2. At least it was played in tune. The turgid pace and lack of melodic shaping during the first two movements felt like being on a treadmill. The dynamic variations of the third were superficial, not least because they lacked the matching contrast in character behind the notes. The finale continued to aimlessly roll out more floaty stuff.

Sam Olluver


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