SSO Concert: Viennese Classics / Review

VIENNESE DELIGHTS / Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Conservatory Concert Hall / Saturday (14 May 2011)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 16 May 2011 with the title "Mirror image of symphonies".

It is always interesting to see and hear the Singapore Symphony Orchestra performing outside of the Esplanade. For the season’s last pair of subscription concerts, the orchestra moved to the smaller space of Yong Siew Toh Conservatory’s concert hall. The cosiness and friendly atmosphere of Victoria Concert Hall was relived, with the evening’s conductor Okko Kamu spotted mingling with concert-goers in the foyer before the concert and during the interval.

Chamber music and performances with smaller forces are better served in this hall, which explained the programme from the First Viennese School. The coupling of symphonies by Haydn and Beethoven, juxtaposing master and student, was a totally euphonious one, the symmetry of which became apparent when the orchestra sounded the first chord.

How late Haydn had influenced early Beethoven could be felt in the former’s Symphony No.102 in B flat major, opening the concert. The now-familiar schema of slow and serious introduction giving way to sheer energy and vivacity came from the older composer. The orchestra responded with silvery sheen from the strings and absolute precision despite the dizzying velocity.

The slow movement exuded stately beauty, and while the 3rd movement’s Minuet could have done with more lightness, the jesting and quicksilver wit of the finale bowled one over. While Haydn remains music’s most underrated soul, the same could not be said of Beethoven. His Second Symphony in D major saw almost a repeat of Haydn’s mastery of form, but the amplified by younger composer’s irrepressible and surging spirit.

Yet it was not all boom and bluster, as the orchestra coaxed some of the concert’s most lovely moments in the sublime Larghetto. Time stood still before Kamu led an all-out assault in the final movements, more than providing clues of Beethoven’s future greatness in works like his Eroica Symphony.

In between the two mirror-imaged symphonies was Mozart’s relatively early Piano Concerto No.13 in C major with the supremely musical British pianist Steven Osborne (above). His was a limpid and idiomatic reading, which confluent with Mozart’s own prescription “flowed like oil” beneath its martial pretensions. He was also unafraid to exert himself when it mattered.

From arch simplicity in the slow movement to cheerful banter alternating with reflective melancholy in the finale, the contrasts he provided made the music come alive. Expect more delights when he next returns.