From Light to Darkness

Scottish Light and Russian Darkness
Dmitri Shostakovich – Festive Overture Op. 96
Max Bruch – Scottish Fantasy Op. 46
Piotr Iylich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6 ‘Pathétique’

YST Conservatory Orchestra
Dirigent: Mark Wigglesworth
Soloist: Zuo Jun
Dmitri Shostakovich – Festive Overture Op. 96

The hastily written Festive Overture begot an equally hasty interpretation, with an crystal clear
fanfare setting the stage for a heady race that never looked back. The gamble paid off,
with the winds impressively keeping pace with an enthused string section. Contrasts between the jubilant first theme (lead in by the solo winds) and the passionate second theme (lead in by the cellos) came out clear and intuitive.

Apart from the speed, or perhaps even despite that, the ensemble held mostly true, which probably boosted the irony that Shostakovich probably intended in this extremely joyful sounding work.

Perhaps this author is assuming too much and Shostakovich was simply writing a suitable overture simply for the sake of it, although “some commentators have suggested that the work secretly celebrates the death of Stalin the year before (1953).” (Source: Wikipedia). The programme notes also suggested that Shostakovich had treated the work not as light music, but as serious music, as evidenced by a personal account.

Trivia: The Festive Overture is “apparently based on Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla overture” and was written, by different accounts (or legends), within “three days” to a single night.
(Author’s Note: Yes NUSSO, the resemblance is uncanny =P)

Max Bruch – Scottish Fantasy Op. 46

A very clean and polished rendition by Zuo Jun followed. The clarity came through with the Camillo Camilli from the Rin collection, but was somewhat compromised by its lack in unabashed sonority in the large Esplanade Concert Hall.

The immense difficulty of coordination with a front-placed harp was made apparent in the opening movement, although this improved and by the last movement, ensemble was more or less spot on. The orchestra was generally sensitive and realised the strong folk character of the work, whilst maintaining a good degree of ensemble with the violin-and-harp duo.

This small hiccup (accompanied by a slight untuning of the instrument between the middle movements which precipitated some out-of-tune double stops) did little to the stylistically rich lines and daredevil runs, which carried across the hall with unmuted precision.

The audience could barely wait to leap at the first opportunity for applause.

For dessert, Zuo Jun played “Bach” (as described in his words), the Sicillienne from the 1st Solo Sonata in G Minor. It was a more space-y and articulated interpretation than this author usually assumes it to sound, but lent authenticity and nostalgia and fit the sound profile of the Italian instrument.

Trivia: Camilli’s design of instruments was influenced by Pietro Guarneri.

Piotr Iylich Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6 ‘Pathétique’

One of Tchaikovsky’s darkest (if not the darkest of his) works, the 6th stands in sharp contrast to the triumphant 5th (that NUSSO recently attempted last month). If the 5th is a progression from darkness into light, then the 6th probably outlines the hopelessness of life, approximating the reverse progression.

The stuttering, wailing 1st movement was brought to life, the seasickness-inducing hairpins doing their very best to unsettle and tug at invisible heartstrings. Some awkward moments ensued during the accompanying rubato but the raw sound and overall direction prevailed in this extremely long (almost 20-minute long) instalment. The pain portrayed was palpable, with an incessantly gripping intensity, without being too emotionally loaded at points, punctuating and lending more momentum to the appassionato outbursts whenever they happened. Sometimes, well-placed subtlety can be more powerful as a tear-jerker.

The lovely 2nd movement seems to reflect the teenager’s youthful enthusiasm and infatuation with potential lovers and life itself. From first-person accounts, Wigglesworth apparently emphasised extremes (in dynamics), which manifested beautifully in this heavily voiced and contoured movement. His embracing strokes during the second surging-and-ebbing theme seemed to play out as the Liebeslied part of love, against the Liebesfreud-esque opening theme.

The unstoppable momentum seen in the Festive Overture returned with a vengeance, setting the musicians once again on the adrenaline-tipped edge of a seemingly victorious march. All’s well ends well, however, with the rushed tempo seeming to strengthen the suggestion that this movement was but an elaborate, albeit grandiose, joke, that also garnered a rousing bout of applause in its “false ending”. Perhaps reflective of one who has attained success, the Scherzo-ish beginning and March-like triumphant ending might be telling of the frivolity humans usually assume when deciding and declaring the success of others. A couple of small slips by the brasses did nothing to the unstoppable juggernaut that was the 3rd, penultimate movement.

My current favourite movement, if only because of a masochistic streak, comes in the form of alternating cries of lamentation and brooding emo-ness (as modern terminology would have it). The “resolving” theme in major mode also seemed to be more of a eulogy than an expression of happiness. The considerable, and unrestrained, musicality of the strings (some of whom I heard in quartet and chamber settings) brought out the struggle and suffering already inherent in the harmonies and lines to the limelight. The final vestiges of the growls of the bass instruments faded to silence, and it was an almost breathless wait for the first signs of applause to emanate from the enthralled audience.

Trivia: Tchaikovsky wrote a failed 6th that was posthumously named the 7th Symphony. Themes and movements were reworked into other pieces by Bogatyryov and Taneyev.

P.S. Only one clip embedded for the sake of brevity – one of Heifetz’s 招牌曲 (trademarks) was the Scottish Fantasy.

Useful for those who know of Heifetz as a “cold” and infallible musician, although his mistakes made here are probably more attributable to age than anything else.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIGZtQpBkOQ]

Extra Note on Concert Etiquette

‎”Had part of the hall been enveloped in that damp, choking sea mist, known as the Haar, which affects the eastern fringes of Scotland? Or was the coughing the audience’s way of expressing their contempt for the scandalous omission from the programme book of a single mention of one of the brightest stars of the performance, harpist Bryan Lee?”

– Marc Rochester

Indeed, the audience was downright atrocious that day, and that was not limited to the dozens of secondary-school and younger students in the hall (or might I say, crowd). I heard accounts from friends that adults were sleeping, while a few to my right were chatting animatedly in their native tongue, amongst joke-mongering by youthful students on my left, in-between-movement clapping and forced expirations by their compatriots behind them, and their amused schoolmates hitting their heads on the wood tips of the chairs when they threw their heads back in laughter.

I was only tickled by the very last occurrence.

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About jfkwt

A little person on a little island in a little planet

Posted on April 14, 2012, in Concert Review, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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