Chamber music festival hits and misses

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 4:30am

Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival

Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall

Tuesday and Wednesday

Tchaikovsky's string sextet Souvenir de Florence brought the 4th Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival to a close on Wednesday with a meaty performance by the ad hoc ensemble of Ning Feng and Michael Guttman (both on violin), Toby Hoffmann and Andrew Ling (viola), and Leonard Elschenbroich and Richard Bamping (cello).

The spontaneous applause tripped by the exhilarating first movement was entirely understandable; I would have got stuck in myself if I hadn't had pen and paper in hand.

Feng, Hoffmann and Elschenbroich gave excellent service in their anchor roles, but it was the subtle interaction between all the players that created the party atmosphere.

Joined by pianist Denis Kozhukhin, the Jerusalem Quartet's faithful account of Shostakovich's Piano Quintet opus 57 sprang no surprises, but the sweet, clear-cut tone of first violinist Alexander Pavlovsky and Kozhukhin's judicious dovetailing of the piano's role within the fabric were constant pluses.

Mezzo-soprano Renée Tatum opened proceedings with earnest songs by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, maybe not the perfect choice for a curtain-raiser, but Tatum delivered the set with a commanding stage presence.

Pianist Wang Pei-Yao was a responsive accompanist, albeit a little light on the bass line.

On Tuesday, Hélène Grimaud's solo piano recital was mesmerising for all the wrong reasons. The programme note reminded us that Mozart's rare minor-key Piano Sonata No 8 was written in the wake of his mother's death; Grimaud made it sound like a dance on her coffin.

The opening movement was eccentric in concept, unstable in speed, and employed a thumping tone that was ill-balanced between the hands; there was little sense of melodic line, and not even a bubble's breathing space between contrasting themes.

She gave Alban Berg's Piano Sonata Op 1 an armour-plated interpretation, opting to bypass the more subtle possibilities in Berg's early quest for a distinctive voice.

During Liszt's Sonata in B minor, Grimaud sounded largely up to it technically, but was seemingly insensitive to her own sound and Liszt's ground plan.

Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances came as welcome relief, but were dispatched with a lacklustre ethnic edge.