Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival - edgy, passionate, and astonishing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 January, 2015, 6:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 January, 2015, 6:02am

The Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival

Reviewed: January 14, 15, 18 Various venues


The magic of chamber music - fine soloists playing in a group as equals - is an addictive pleasure.

There are different joys at a festival: one is to hear established groups playing polished renditions, and another is to hear players who have just met sparking ideas off each other on stage.

On the opening night, a performance of Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings was masterful. Burt Hara, clarinetist, had a pure tone and danced through Mozart's filigree passagework. The Escher Quartet sounded slightly muted in the big hall. It wasn't a performance that took chances, but it was beautifully crafted.

Beethoven's Piano Trio in D ( Ghost) had violinist and festival music director Cho-liang Lin leading the group in an edgy, performance. He and Clive Greensmith on cello sounded gruff, even scratchy, as if they were daring each other to go to the edge. The slow largo movement is said to be a depiction of the witches of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Lin has a gift for storytelling and it was not hard to picture a lonely moor and a bubbling cauldron.

The Brahms String Quintet No 2 in G was played in a sweeping Romantic style, led by violinist Martin Beaver. The un poco allegretto movement, with its sophisticated waltzes, sang in lovely balance. But possibly because the big hall made it hard for the players to hear each other, the rhythm was not always tight. Brian Chen's viola solos were a high point.

The Grand Theatre at HKU is far better for chamber music than the City Hall Concert Hall. On the second concert of the festival, every detail of Beethoven's Piano Trio in C Minor leaped into relief with violinist Martin Beaver, cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Kathryn Stott.

The Lutoslawski Partita for Violin and Piano is a modernist piece, verging on atonal. Violinist Lin kept the tension through episodes ranging from inward, breathy low notes, to lyrical flights, to impassioned drama with the bow tearing into the strings.

Dvorak's Piano Quintet in A was where the polish met the passion. Kyoko Takezawa played her melodic lines with the freedom of a great soprano. She elicited a vibrant sound from the phenomenal ensemble (pictured) of pianist Kathryn Stott, violinist Adam Barnett-Hart, violist Brian Chen and cellist Clive Greensmith.

Sunday's afternoon concert included Schubert's Fantasia in F Minor for piano 4-hands.

Orion Weiss and Wu Han played fluently and poetically, but the piece sounded restrained from the audience.

In Transfigured Night by Arnold Schoenberg, for six strings, a pleading woman was tenderly voiced by Brian Chen on viola, and Schoenberg's use of harmonics and pizzicato to depict a sense of wonder and transfiguration was amazing.