Silver and Snow (Part 2)
Singapore Symphony Orchestra: Russian Nights
In a series of fortunes, I ended up procuring a ticket to the SSO concert with returning conductor Rozhdestvensky, before which I would have been ambivalent to attend. Suffice to say I was a little more than pleasantly surprised by the experience.
In the last few instalments that I did attend, there has been a mix of glorious moments and unexpected (rather minor) disappointments: Glazunov’s brilliant Les Ruses d’amour which followed a struggling Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto, and Postinova’s somewhat violent treatment of Brahms’ 2nd Concerto which preceded a glowing 2nd Symphony by the same composer. This time round, it was evident that the Russian pieces fit the conductor and soloist couple to a T, and the gravity of the works had little effect on the energy and freshness that the orchestra brought to bear against the musical demands.
In a classic, complex Russian that this author does not fully comprehend, the theme of death is juxtaposed sharply against the flowing, living, and eventual ascension that death alone is unable to prevent.
Liadov’s Apocalypse – at first sight a vision breaking into tranquil glory, melts into a strange and unfamiliar disintegrating paradise. In between cacophonies of lustres and outbursts of unheard voices, lies a foreign land that is seldom heard (and challenging to digest) but simply heartfelt. Written shortly before his death, it seems the composer himself was expected to have produced more and “better”, but the sparseness and rarity of the music may be part of why it turned out so treasurable, and so ethereally satisfying. No more should be said without listening to it.
The setting up of the pianoforte gave some time for reflection, before Postinova came onstage with a rather fresh image (her husband appeared to be donning an Eastern-styled outfit). It became apparent upon her launching boldly into the sparkling opening that the music would be in her favour. There were some balance (and minor ensemble) issues resulting in the soloist being covered by the orchestra, impossible though it may seem. Some over-pedalling in the first movement seemed apparent from my vantage point, although the sound from the stalls was reportedly dry. These proved to be minor flaws as the orchestra unleashed romanticism that matched the strength of Postinova’s arduour, without due concern to her seven decades (and the conductor’s eight) on this planet.
After carrying a greater weight than the composers would suggest, the first half led to the clear heavyweight in Shostakovich – and his last symphony no less. As if a composer could not be further accomplished, Shostakovich the (mis)fortunate who lived through the War(s) era also went through the lyrical, celebratory, pained, stormy, frivolous, and finally ended here with the transcendent. Not immediately approachable as per the first half, the symphony appeared (as paraphrased from the programme notes) to be a selection of memories, a flashback of sorts by the sick and ailing Shostakovich. With “just 31 bars” of full tutti orchestra, and a 14-strong percussion section, the symphony was as eclectic as atmospheric, diasporic. Strains of restrospection were set against chamber textures of exquisite beauty. Despite the audiences (understandable) restlessness towards the third and fourth movements, there was much to be understood in that which was difficult to listen to and comprehend.
I will leave the enthusiasm of the reader unfulfilled with this abridged quote by Blokker on Shostakovich: “…just as a great poet can convey more in fifty words than a promising one in five hundred.” Perhaps that warrants another listening (and another playing) at some later point in this life.
Two swan-songs bracketing one composer’s first foray into piano concertos seems almost intentional. From his apparent onstage wit to the hideously demanding programming, Rozhdestvensky was obviously pleased by the form of the orchestra and the solo performances Yuzefovich and Ng Pei-Sian, amongst others that I am unable to put a name to the face. Belying his 7 years with SSO, friendship of over 33 years with Souptel, and 83 years of age, Rozhdestvensky brought great music and (most importantly) great joy and humour.
The timelessness of this concert experience may have just been encapsulated in Postinova’s encore – Liadov’s Music Box. A pianissimo piece (the composer’s supposed forte), Postinova’s tender treatment (most unexpected from her usual bravado) put the “tinkle” in the keys, and without the oft-used gimmicks of a perpetual ritenuto or shutting the piano lid at the end, it left the audience both satiated and wanting for more.