Classical music

Concert review: Chamber Recital - 20th Century Masterpieces an enchanting mix

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2015, 6:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2015, 11:44am

Chamber Recital - 20th Century Masterpieces

HK Philharmonic Orchestra soloists

Tsuen Wan Town Hall

Reviewed: May 8

This modern chamber recital was played by the champion team of Hong Kong musicians. Each piece, from light to heavy, was performed with urgent commitment by pianist Warren Lee and principals from the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

Malcolm Arnold's Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano is short and slight, but clarinettist Andrew Simon and pianist Lee played it like a masterpiece.

The beginning blustered with a crash of piano chords and a rush of clarinet notes, then settled down to an honest sonatina with memorable melodic ideas. The main theme was off-centre and bright, and the lyrical contrasting theme showed off Simon's enchanting tone. The last movement added Middle Eastern spice to the mix with its irregular metre, brilliant grace notes, scales and clashing chord clusters.

Richard Bamping sings on his cello with a powerful, operatic voice that was imbued with a Chinese flavour for three movements from Bright Sheng's Seven Tunes Heard in China. It put Chinese traditional folk music through a modern filter, zigzagging from high to low, fragmenting and cross-cutting in mid-idea to create big, bold structures.

Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time was written and premiered in a prison camp in Germany during the second world war. The piece seems superficially cold or abstract, but it becomes clear he is expressing obliquely what is too horrific to say directly.

The first movement evoked birdsong, but the musicians could have been more playful - the birds didn't quite come alive. Unison running passages were note-perfect. In the solo sections, each player was pushed to the limit of bows, breath and fingers. Simon's faint tinge of vibrato was just right in his gripping solo.

Bamping's cello solo had a deceptively sweet mood, undercut by "blue" notes aching to resolve. Jing Wang's violin solo was celestial. He went from a rich, consoling mezzo-soprano tone to whistling high notes, reaching perfect resolution on a fragile high E. The glimpse of freedom and joy through prison bars was almost palpable.