Passion and precision in HK Phil’s Russian-flavoured season opener of Stravinsky and Rachmaninov
A soloist with technique to burn, Leila Josefowicz negotiated the tricky passages of Stravinsky’s neoclassical Violin Concerto in D with ease; orchestra produced rich sound and gorgeous individual playing in Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2
Sparkling chords, bright open strings, complex rhythms and wonderful lyricism – Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s neoclassical Violin Concerto in D from 1931 has them all. And Leila Josefowicz, the Canadian-American soloist in Friday’s concert with the Hong Kong Philharmonic under music director Jaap van Zweden’s baton, held nothing back in her interpretation.
With technique to burn, she managed to make tricks such as up-bow staccato and ricochet bowing look like a cinch in the Aria 1 (second movement) and impressed throughout with her crystal-clear harmonics and focused sound.
On occasion, Josefowicz’s jovial dialogue with wind soloists in the opening Toccata left the violin coming off acoustically second best, rendering her almost inaudible from the balcony. But the soloist’s fine interweaving with various instrumentalists beautifully captured the mood of desolation and sorrow in the middle movements. The Capriccio finale provided plenty of sparkle and lighthearted relief.
Stravinsky omitted the customary violin cadenza in his concerto, but Josefowicz had ample opportunity to demonstrate her technical mastery throughout, and in an impressive encore.
Passionate and pulsating romanticism at its best followed the intermission, showing van Zweden and the Hong Kong Phil right in their element and on top of their game in a glorious performance that highlighted the majesty and beauty of another Russian, Sergei Rachmaninov’s, Symphony no. 2 in E minor.
The rich and robust string sound (notably from the first violins and cellos) was superb in the opening Largo, as was Kwan Sheung-fung’s fine cor anglais solo leading into the Allegro moderato. Swells and climaxes were carefully calibrated by van Zweden, but left one craving more middle voice (from the second violins and violas) on occasion – though the Cultural Centre Concert Hall’s acoustics had something to do with that.
The frenetic second movement Allegro molto conjures images of bolting herds of wild horses, but there wasn’t a hoof out of place. Violins and horns played with absolute precision as van Zweden kept a tight rein.
Andrew Simon’s extended clarinet solo in the much loved and dreamy third movement Adagio was gorgeous and just one of many gems provided by the woodwind.
The brass and percussion also shone on many occasions, not least in the stirring and thoroughly satisfying final Allegro vivace that concluded an evening of stellar music making.
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall. Reviewed: August 31