Chamber made ethereal sounds
AT the beginning and end of the Hong Kong Chamber Orchestra's performance, somebody must have been on the side of the angels. Right on cue, a large beautiful moth flew into the church as the Elgar Salut d'Amour started.
Again on cue, as the last Bartok Rumanian Dances finished, the same moth soared into the church, teased the hair of the listeners, glided around the orchestra, then took off into the night.
The flight was more than symbolic. The theme of the concert was 'From Summer to Spring', and all the pieces reflected the seasonal changes.
The moth - as well as the basket of fruit in lieu of flowers that was presented to the conductor - gave it all the right compliments of the season.
The programme was well chosen for this talented group. One might have scorned the Edwardian insipidities of the Elgar, but who could dislike Vivaldi's Summer or Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending, or even the Delius nature pieces? The selection was noteworthy, as was the church venue. After almost two decades, the Hong Kong Chamber Orchestra has kept to a mere 34 players, but the resonances of Union Church gave them a volume larger than their numbers.
True, some of the sounds resembled those of a monster radio with a huge woofer (the bass notes almost made the pews tremble), but all in all the echoes were suitably musical.
More extraordinary was the solo violin playing of Wong Sze-hang. Wong has already distinguished himself with his Hong Kong String Quartet and his work with the Philharmonic, but as a soloist, he has a sweet, lyrical, sometimes captivating tone.
At the beginning of the Vivaldi, the speed of playing blurred the articulation. But the work came under control and was played with a splendid sense of line.
An excess of schmaltz is never untoward in The Lark Ascending but Wong kept his control, allowing the violin to glide upwards into Vaughan Williams' ether. His performance verged on the ravishing.
That it didn't quite reach the heavens was because the HK Chamber Orchestra, for all its good will, is still basically an amateur group, in the best sense of the word.
True, they have a few stalwarts of the Phil, like first chair cellist Richard Bamping. Conductor Chen Chien-tai also has a firm technique, with an uncomplicated sense of direction.
But those moments which demanded pure nuance and ensemble, like Delius' First Cuckoo and Summer Night were rather heavy.
On the other hand, dancing and zest were essential, and Chen proved a sturdy conductor. The last Bartok dances, in fact, benefited from this excess of bass. They are happy, exotic, model works, and the Chamber gave them all the excitement they deserved.
From Summer to Spring, Hong Kong Chamber Orchestra, Union Church, June 18