Concert review: Van Zweden and Hong Kong Phil bring Strauss and Mozart alive

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2015, 6:53am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 June, 2015, 6:53am

Heroic! Strauss' Ein Heldenleben

Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Reviewed: June 6

Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben and Mozart's Symphony No 40 in G minor share a Viennese pedigree, but Strauss' great mastiff of a piece dwarfs Mozart's miniature poodle. However, conductor Jaap van Zweden imbued each with a radiant tone, crisp outlines and vivid details.

At Van Zweden's brisk tempo, Mozart's busy opening flew by. The violin melody, quick up-beats with an upward swoop, was drawn with a single stroke. The clarity of string sound was breathtaking.

The Andante movement lilted with a dance tempo. The violins etched exquisite notes in the air and the woodwinds traced lovely decorations, but I missed the gravity of a statelier pace. The Minuet was slashing and aggressive, highlighting the jagged contours and accented rhythms. The gentler trio section featured beautiful horn and woodwind playing.

The Allegro assai movement was dashing. Van Zweden's control was a joy, the players phrasing as one. On the other hand, the lack of friction and grit made his Mozart seem too smooth, like watching a battle from a hilltop.

Not so with Ein Heldenleben. Here we were immersed in Strauss' struggles. In A Hero's Life Strauss wove a heartfelt work from the slightly ludicrous scenario of the hero battling critics, falling in love, and ultimately reaching fulfilment.

Jing Wang, concertmaster and violin soloist, brilliantly embodied the capricious voice of The Hero's Helpmate, mesmerising the audience with every twist.

The brass players were magnificent. Megan Sterling comically impersonated picky critics with her spitting flute.

Van Zweden shaped the huge piece to reach the powerful high points. The battle scene, with five percussionists, reached a volume equal to Lunar New Year fireworks. The full orchestra chorale was perfection.