Music beyond the call of duty

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 July, 2013, 5:58am

Ian Parker plays Emperor
Hong Kong Sinfonietta
July 27
City Hall Concert Hall


Hong Kong's flagship mid-sized orchestra has kept classical music aglow during the summer holidays, with a crowd-pleasing programme that has drawn a full house.

But what was truly engaging was the Hong Kong Sinfonietta's larger-than-life music-making propensity that often produces effects beyond the call of duty.

The concert started with four interludes from Britten's famous opera Peter Grimes.

The difficult scores, especially rugged rhythms in Sunday Morning and Moonlight, proved to be too much for the musicians, the woodwind section in particular. It was not until the last movement, Storm, that the orchestra resumed its solid form in the timpani-led passages that conveyed drama and weight.

The orchestra performed Beethoven's Emperor piano concerto with great composure in an inspired collaboration with Canadian pianist Ian Parker. Though the strings appeared thin in orchestral tutti, Parker's fresh rubato and vivacious tone drew some of the best playing from the woodwinds in the dialogue passages, and from the strings in the massive octaves from the piano mid-way in the first movement.

Conductor Yip Wing-sie led her musicians with great precision at critical junctures, adding exquisite warmth in the delicate second movement, and sheer joy in the ebullient finale.

Rapturous applause was rewarded with a thrilling encore, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which Parker called "a small piece from New York".

Those who left after the concerto missed the best of the evening as the Sinfonietta pulled out all the stops in what appeared to be its debut performance of Sibelius' First Symphony.

Kicking off with sawing second violins after the atmospheric lone clarinet passage, there was no turning back in the four-movement work and all the fluctuating moods conveyed in the music. Except for a dragging trio section in the third movement, the work brought out the best of the sinfonietta.

Particularly memorable was the beautiful dialogue of the harp and the woodwind in the first movement, the sweeping strings in the second, and the thunderous passages of the timpani and the brass in the third and final movements.

The suspense before the final build-up added weight in the surge. How the final pizzicato plucks faded away showcased the great reverberation of our City Hall Concert Hall - truly unchanged after 50 years.