Regular attendees of concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra know of and admire principal conductor Shui Lan's large orchestral forces.
Schoenberg's tone poem Pelleas Und Melisande fits this genre to a tee, calling for an ensemble with eight horns, two sets of timpanis and harps, and a full complement of brass.
An early work of Schoenberg, composed in conventional tonal style at a time before he devised his 12 tone system, this work was never going to be easy going.
It was apt that Shui gave an extensive introduction to the piece at the SSO Gala Concert on Saturday at the Esplanade Concert Hall.
He used orchestral excerpts to introduce the four motifs used by the composer and the flow of the parts describing the love triangle of Melisande, her husband Golaud, and the youthful Pelleas.
There was much to commend on the coherency and excellent control Shui brought to this large and complex music. Ultimately the music sounded laboured, and the Singapore premiere of this work did not move the audience the way the Brahms that followed would.
In the second half, piano superstar Krystian Zimerman joined the SSO in Brahms' first Piano Concerto. Renowned for his uncompromising approach to music and performance, the Polish pianist, Shui and the SSO played like best friends re-united.
The pianist often tours with his own specially prepared Steinway grand piano, but this evening the concert hall's Steinway, which has seen more downs than ups in the past year, sounded totally convincing from bottom to top, showcasing the pianist's astounding tonal palette.
From the opening timpani roll, there was a deep connection between pianist and orchestra, and Shui directed the SSO with utmost focus.
The consummate soloist, Zimerman moved from intense lyricism to explosive runs in an instant, captivating the audience in his solo piano passages as if he was alone on stage in a solo recital. Parts of the first and second movement seemed to be played slower than usual, but this was more the result of orchestra and soloist achieving an elevated level of clarity and precision.
The partnership that Zimerman forged in passages he shared with timpani, solo horns and principal violin was exquisite.
The concerto ended with great dynamism and the applause was rapturous, with large sections of the audience on their feet. It was of no consequence that no encore followed.
Musicians and audience all departed fully satisfied with the strongest, most complete performance of a piano concerto heard in Singapore for years.