Splendid hat-trick

REVIEW / CONCERT

ROCOCO VARIATIONS

Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Victoria Concert Hall/Last Friday

There was a pleasing symmetry to the pair of concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra conducted by its principal guest conductor, Okko Kamu, last weekend.

Two symphonies in the key of D major bookended a concerto, with all three works sharing the common theme of classicism.

Neoclassical may describe Prokofiev's First Symphony, also known as the Classical Symphony, which was an early-20th-century update on the symphonies of Joseph Haydn.

"Small is beautiful" is the credo of this delightful work, which got a bubbly reading that was also well paced. Amid the busyness was bassoon principal Zhang Jin Min's ever-steady arpeggiated passages that pulsed like clockwork.

The slow movement displayed much lightness in its staccato beat, with violins singing a seamless melody. The third movement's Gavotte, where there was a deliberate effort to parody its ungainliness, did not come off as planned. It sounded lead-footed, but the quick-fire finale was mercurial and incisively driven to be truly exciting.

Next came Tchaikovsky's Variations On A Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra, popularly known as the Rococo Variations. The term rococo refers to a late baroque style that favours simplicity over the typically florid and ornate figurations of the 18th century.

It was such a Mozartian theme that inspired this piece, which received a stunning performance from SSO principal cellist Ng Pei-Sian.

His nimbleness was articulated perfectly in the tricky variations and the slower moments were a marvel of tenderness and grace. The furious finale variation was delivered with unabashed aplomb and the loud audience applause was rewarded with Bach's Prelude In G Major as an encore.

Beethoven's Second Symphony completed the programme. Its punched-out opening chords were loud and uncompromisingly direct. The slow introduction soon led to the Allegro section of raw virile energy. Here was Beethoven's angst, coinciding with the onset of his irreversible deafness, laid out for show.

The orchestra was on the same page throughout and while there was bustling activity in the first movement, the slower second movement benefited from a sturdy unceasing pulse. The Scherzo was vigorous and full-bodied in its approach, which set the tone for the rollicking finale.

Here, a relentlessly hectic pace could have been pursued, but conductor Kamu favoured one that allowed its wit and humour to come through. This was not a routine run-through, but a bona fide and true interpretation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 03, 2016, with the headline 'Splendid hat-trick'. Print Edition | Subscribe