Colourful nod to Beethoven

REVIEW / CONCERT

GABOR TAKACS-NAGY CONDUCTS BEETHOVEN - WITH ANDRAS SCHIFF

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall/Tuesday

There was a Hungarian flavour to the all-Beethoven programme by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Orchestra in its latest concert.

Leading the conservatory orchestra for a second time in concert, guest conductor Gabor Takacs-Nagy brought an old-world charm to what might have been standard orchestral repertoire.

Breaking from tradition, he addressed the audience before two works, briefly explaining Beethoven's inspirations and intentions. The concert opened with the brief King Stephan Overture, composed for the 1812 opening of the grand theatre in Budapest. Named after the founding monarch of Hungary, its evocation of the Hungarian spirit included long-held lines alternating with faster music of a courtly and celebratory nature. The orchestra responded well to the conductor's cues, bringing out a spirited reading with textural colour and rhythmic vigour.

Next, the orchestra accompanied Hungary-born pianist Andras Schiff in Beethoven's First Piano Concerto In C Major (Op. 15). Schiff's account was not barnstorming, but measured and delicate to every nuance and detail. It was interesting that he observed the single F natural "wrong note" in the first movement, which came about because keyboards in Beethoven's time did not include the high F sharp.

He also played chords, octaves and accompanying figurations during the orchestral tuttis, as if he were part of the general ensemble. The first movement cadenza was eventful in its storm and stress, capped by a loud chord followed by a cheeky soft broken chord.

Gracefulness reigned in the slow movement, almost a pas de deux between piano and the orchestra's excellent clarinet principal, Jang Zion. More crispness and light-hearted banter lit up the final Rondo, which leapt about with an irresistible joie de vivre.

And there were two encores - two Beethoven Bagatelles from Op. 126 - from the ever-generous Schiff. How prescient it was that the second encore included a hurdy-gurdy's bucolic drone, a most apt prelude for the Pastoral Symphony of the second half.

Takacs-Nagy adopted a comfortable pace for the orchestra to amble in the symphony's first movement, which relived "happy feelings on arriving in the countryside". The gently lapping rhythm of the second movement, Scene By The Brook, was bliss itself, answered by the chirpy bird-calls from the flute, oboe and clarinet.

The winds distinguished the third movement's village dance, with perfect timing from the oboe, bassoon, clarinet and French horn, before the perfect storm, where the timpani hurled thunderbolts while the shrill piccolo rode the wind.

Beethoven's only slow movement finale was a hymn of thanksgiving, played with an overarching warmth with the message that all is well with the world. Conductor Takacs-Nagy's final gesture of pointing to the heavens above said it all.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2016, with the headline 'Colourful nod to Beethoven'. Print Edition | Subscribe