Classical music

Review: Pianist Ben Kim and Hong Kong Sinfonietta - Romantic promise

Soloist played with elegance and finesse but no fire, while new principal guest conductor Christoph Poppen brought out the best in the orchestra - auguring well for its future growth

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 11:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 September, 2015, 12:10pm

Christoph Poppen's debut as principal guest conductor with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta showed real promise for the ensemble's future growth. In this concert of Romantic music, he brought out the best in the strings and instilled discipline in the winds, brass and percussion.

Mendelssohn's Ruy Blas Overture highlighted rich brass chords that were played solidly in tune. The strings dug in with a warm, full sound. The music had an appropriate German "accent" (Poppen is German), with the unique emphasis and shape in each phrase that made the music convincing.

Chopin's Concerto No 1 in E minor is, in truth, a piano solo with orchestral back-up. Chopin put only 1 per cent of his attention on the orchestration. But who cares? It is magnificent, with unforgettable themes developed with his passionate embroidery. The Maestoso opening was firmly played, and the orchestra gave excellent support to the soloist, always tightly together at every tempo, notably with some pinpoint pizzicatos in the basses and cellos.

Pianist Ben Kim played with elegance and poetry. His gentle beginning seemed like preparation for a fiery explosion, but that never arrived. Even with his somewhat subdued dynamics, Chopin's figures whirled with exhilarating momentum. The slow movement was a gorgeous, velvety mist.

The third movement, Rondo:Vivace, had a teasing rhythm, a fantasy dance not for human feet. At times it seemed to require two virtuosos, one for each hand. Kim played with finesse but without letting the energy come to a boil. After too much of this, the effect was like palm fronds listlessly waving.

Poppen showed his rapport with the orchestra in Brahms' Symphony No 4 in E minor. The players conveyed the waltz-like sway of Brahms' first theme, which then rose to a convincing turmoil. The oceanic moments were a little thin, given the Sinfonietta's limited numbers, but the movement's ending was strong.

Woodwinds throughout were in good tune and ensemble, and there was a terrific clarinet solo that bloomed over the strings in the second movement. The fourth movement had a bold flute solo played by guest principal Anna Saha.

Percussion was artfully blended, and a perfect triangle note deserves mention; it created a delightful halo effect. The final build-up, including echoing silences, was powerful.

Hong Kong Sinfonietta, City Hall Concert Hall.  Reviewed: September 12