HK Phil's Brahms: The Four Symphonies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 November, 2014, 10:29am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 November, 2014, 10:29am

Brahms - The Four Symphonies

HK Philharmonic Orchestra

Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Reviewed: November 15

The recent Hong Kong Philharmonic's concerts were given in memory of Lorin Maazel, the American conductor who died in July, aged 84. Maazel had been booked to conduct Brahms' four symphonies across the two evenings.

David Atherton was his replacement; Saturday's programme featured symphonies 2 and 3.

There was a time when Brahms' first and last symphonies overshadowed the middle two, but the latter have gained significantly in popularity, which has encouraged fresh insights into their interpretation.

This performance of Symphony No 3 was marked by a pleasing elasticity of tempo, sensitivity to melodic inflections and an assured sense of overall direction; but it was marred by a lack of balance in loud passages, an absence of poise in the attack and release of phrases, and an unrealised hope of hearing a new angle in the reading. The finale was the exception, which thundered along impressively before enjoying a well controlled wind-down into its restrained close.

Symphony No 2 threatened to continue in this middling vein. The opening movement's succession of melodies in the exposition begged for more vivid contrasts; the fact that Atherton chose not to observe the section's repeat marks was a blessing. The barely established lilt of the opening bars sank into something much more leaden by the time of the development section.

And then the sun came out.

Atherton's impeccable choice of tempi helped buff up the remaining movements into a stylish demonstration of just how fresh and urgent this music can sound. And the sustained tension of the finale rightly attracted enthusiastic applause.

The strings sounded magnificent in the second movement; the woodwind enjoyed numerous moments of glory; and principal horn Jiang Lin was as solid as ever in his solos. The rest of the horn section, however, won't be planning on telling their grandchildren about their showing on this occasion.