Classical music

Review: Charlie Siem and City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong

Flawless soloist showed coolness and fire in contrasting pieces, while guest conductor Ken-David Masur took the orchestra to a new level

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 November, 2015, 12:40pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 November, 2015, 12:40pm

If Charlie Siem quit his day job, which would it be – the concert violin gig or fashion modelling for Dior? Neither qualifies as a dull slog; in fact, they are impossibly glamorous, but he seems to have mastered both. Certainly his ethereal The Lark Ascending and smoky Tzigane proved him to be a violinist of brilliance and range.

Ken-David Masur, guest conductor, raised the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong to a new level in the opening concert of their season. His emphatic gestures infused the players with life and set up clean tempo changes and solid entrances and endings.

SEE ALSO: Violinist Charlie Siem on mixing modelling and music ahead of his Hong Kong debut

A thread connecting several of the pieces they performed is that they are based on “antique” Baroque models – charming throwbacks all composed between 1884 and 1924, just at the time when romanticism was giving way to modernism.

Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite is for strings alone, and the CCOHK’s strings had a bigger and more fervent sound than usual. The violins were clear and sweet in the Praeludium. Cellist Artem Konstantinov had ravishing solo passages in the graceful Sarabande. The Air: Andante Religioso was in the spirit of Handel but the intense climaxes could only have come from the late romantic era. The concluding Rigaudon was fast and fun, with a deftly poised duet played by violinist Amelia Chan and violist Guo-Yu-wen.

Charlie Siem’s violin, a Guarneri del Gesu previously played by Yehudi Menuhin, sang marvellously like a bird in Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Siem’s tone was shining, with flawless bow control and gorgeous double stops. Cool and pure as the playing was, the ensemble could have made more of the ecstatic climaxes.

SEE ALSO: Other strings to his bow: Charlie Siem - classical violinist, model and pop performer

Respighi’s suite Gli Uccelli (The Birds) is another piece based on borrowed Baroque with colourful and imaginative orchestration. The Dove was impersonated by the oboe, and the transparent texture with harp was lovely. Amelia Chan, concertmaster, bowed with warmth in another fine solo. The Hen had comically awkward squawking, and the flute and piccolo solos were outstanding in The Nightingale.

Ravel’s Tzigane showed that Siem could go beyond a pretty sound. He attacked the first notes on the low G string with conviction, and evoked Ravel’s disturbing gypsy world with shifting rhythms, tense harmonies and throaty slides. In the Hungarian Csárdás the violin erupted with finger-bending left-hand pizzicatos, flying staccatos and arpeggiated harmonics. The orchestra was not always quite with him in the fleetest passages but the effect was still dazzling.

Charlie Siem and City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, City Hall Concert Hall. Reviewed: November 21