Concert review: Violinist Lin Cho-Liang struggles somewhat, conductor John Nelson is distinctive

Violinist Lin Cho-Liang. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Violinist Lin Cho-Liang. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

This concert is the first of a pair this year featuring the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's artist-in-residence, Taiwanese American violinist Lin Cho-Liang, with a chamber concert scheduled for Sunday. There will be another stint in May 2015.

The opening to Brahms first violin concerto was promising enough, with the SSO producing a polished, balanced tone yesterday at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

From the opening notes of the solo violin though, some intonation issues signalled that not everything was in order for Lin, confirmed by his need to re-tune his violin during an orchestral passage. Intonation was addressed, and Lin's immense musicality shone through, especially in the slow second movement, with sensitive phrasing and attention to detail.

In the outer movements, Lin appeared to struggle when the music called for great intensity and volume. The absence of an encore was indicative that not all was right this evening, and one hopes that Lin, who has charmed SSO audiences over the years, will soon be back in form.

For American conductor John Nelson, also a regular guest of the SSO, the overture and symphony proceeded more smoothly.

In the Overture to Oberon by Weber, Oberon's call on his "magic" horn was given an ethereal air by associate principal Jamie Hersch. It was fitting that Nelson directed a very operatic overture, full of drama and dynamics, although the opening sections of the overture could have been tighter.

Dvorak's Symphony No. 7 does not enjoy the popularity of the composer's following two symphonies, but is a substantial work, regarded by many musicians to be his most complete symphony. Nelson continued to conduct with distinction, creating layer upon layer of sound as the opening theme, first played by cellos was delicately passed from section to section.

Dvorak's symphonies can make or break the string sections, and under Nelson's direction there was a delightful lightness to the string sound. They were ably matched by principal horn Han Chang Chou and his section, who were able to alternate between lyricism and levity in an instant, and timpanist Christian Schioler, who seemed to relish every note on his tuneful drums.

Indeed, even after a gruelling fortnight of recordings and concerts, all sections of the SSO sounded strong and inspired. Nelson conducted a superb Brahms Symphony No. 1 with the SSO just over a year ago, and the night's Dvorak symphony affirms his standing as a leading interpreter of the romantic repertoire who brings the best from his musicians.

A noticeable number of the audience departed after the concerto, which is regrettably common practice these days. For not the first time, they missed out on what was the highlight of the concert - an excellent, rewarding symphony performance by the SSO, directed by a conductor whose return to the podium is eagerly awaited.