Murray Perahia and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Reviewed: November 1
The Academy of St Martin in the Fields gave its first performance 55 years ago, where its fresh-faced musicianship built a reputation that continues to this day.
Saturday's programme comprised of four spirited pieces in which the orchestra was at its best when self-directed, driven by sharp ears rather than a baton.
This was particularly evident in the opening work, Mendelssohn's String Symphony No 7. The academy infused the four movements of the piece with just the right amount of impetuosity to reflect Mendelssohn's youth when he composed the piece.
While speeds were on the fast side, leader/director Andrew Haveron maintained a stream of nuances within the tight playing, and though many groups get bogged down by the potential pedantry of the contrapuntal finale, this performance dispatched it with perfect flair.
American pianist Murray Perahia was the guest conductor in Haydn's Symphony No 94, Surprise, a work that counters Mendelssohn's youthful exuberance with the twinkly-eyed confidence of seniority.
Elasticity of dynamics and nimble finger work from the violins proved effective in the opening movement, while the following set of variations enjoyed well-crafted details in articulation and colouring of string sound.
The third movement's lively country dance conjured images of lederhosen in a beer hall, but stopped tantalisingly short of thigh-slapping. Just when one was starting to think that Haydn would have preferred a bit more fizz in the finale, the timpani burst in with some boisterous entries.
In between these two works, Perahia was the soloist in two concertos. The central slow movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No 21 maintained an intelligent speed.
J. S. Bach's Keyboard Concerto No 7, BWV1058, received a muscular performance, bouncing along forcefully from start to finish but lacking the clarity and lightness in execution that are hallmarks of the previous recording by Perahia and the academy.