Classical music

Orchestral treats from Hong Kong Sinfonietta with a strong French flavour

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 May, 2015, 6:28am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 May, 2015, 10:09am

Paul Meyer plays Debussy & Nielsen
Hong Kong Sinfonietta
City Hall Concert Hall

Having braved the torrential rain for this Le French May event on Saturday, a full-house audience was rewarded with a well-designed programme delivered with great élan.

In just four works, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, aside from taking part in the annual French arts festival, wrapped up celebrating anniversaries, completing a symphony cycle and presenting a pre-tour line-up.

The concert began with a French impressionistic masterpiece, Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess. The opening horn solo set the scene with the beautiful theme sung on a long note, leaving the orchestra to unfold slowly in a dreamy atmosphere. A fin de siècle mood prevailed through an unhurried tempo.

Each section, in particular the woodwind such as the oboe, blended into a warm orchestral palette.

Next came the evening's main attraction, the renowned French clarinettist Paul Meyer, who performed two rarely heard works for solo clarinet and orchestra. First was Carl Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto, a three-movement work played without a break.

Despite its rarity, intense playing by both soloist and orchestra turned the work into a listener-friendly gem. Meyer, who will tour with the Sinfonietta in Switzerland in October, displayed warm partnership with the Hong Kong band, which tackled the unfamiliar scores and mood swings with virtuosity, particularly the precise beat of the side-drum throughout the work.

The Frenchman played the cadenzas with ease and great control. The delicate ending on a hushed note could be a snare for the less skilled or rehearsed.

Meyer returned to the second half with Debussy's Premiere Rhapsodie, a short work featuring challenging rhythms and colours. The 50-year-old soloist gave a straightforward reading with excellent ensemble support.

With Sibelius' Sixth Symphony, the Sinfonietta celebrated the composer's 150th birthday, along with that of his Danish counterpart Nielsen, who was also born in 1865. The work also marked the completion of the Finn's symphonic cycle,  the Sinfonietta having now performed all seven symphonies over the past two years.

Unlike the usual strong and melancholy sentiments, this fresh opus offered a pastoral feel, starting with a tender theme sung by the strings, followed by lots of dialogue among sections. It was a fitting way to conclude the cycle with a smile and reconciliation.