REVIEW / CONCERT
SSO SHAKESPEARE400: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Shui Lan (conductor), Gil Shaham (violin)
Esplanade Concert Hall/Thursday
The 2016/17 season of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) kicked off with an all-Mendelssohn programme. In this concert it was joined by the long-standing guest soloist violinist Gil Shaham, who was a featured soloist in its Europe Tour in May.
Mendelssohn's love of literature and plays was a strong theme for the concert. Unlike some of his other orchestral works, which were inspired by nature and travel, The Fair Melusina overture was based on Franz Grillparzer's play about an aquatic nymph. Using imagery rather than the plot of the play, the overture is in some ways a precursor to the orchestral tone poem.
The overture's tricky opening theme was passed around almost every section of the orchestra and the musicians managed commendably, although some cobwebs from their post-tour were yet to be brushed off. In the dramatic middle section, Shui's penchant for the romantic tone poem was evident.
Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto In E Minor must stand as SSO's top three most-played violin concertos in recent years. Just how Shaham and Shui would bring fresh perspective to the work was quickly made clear - briskly and brimming with lightness. Shaham's technical facility and musicianship are formidable, but he did not flaunt those qualities.
Tempos were fast, which tested Shui and the SSO's ability to stay with Shaham, and made the second theme of the opening movement feel rushed. On the other hand, it gave the second movement a nice flow, and provided good impetus in the final movement.
As part of the SSO's series commemorating the 400th death anniversary of William Shakespeare, the concert featured another Mendelssohn composition inspired by a play, his A Midsummer Night's Dream Suite.
The orchestration of this work, which depicts fairies in a forest setting, had a plethora of fast, playful passages, demanding effortless precision. The SSO's strings opened this season as impressively as they had played throughout the last, taking on the delicate passages with ease and Mendelssohn's generous melodies with style.
Shui's direction led to some scintillating moments in the middle movements, and the fourth movement Intermezzo was especially characterful. The extended solo from principal horn Han Chang Chou in the Nocturne that followed was delivered with grace and confidence, albeit with a hint of Wagnerian bravura.
The celebrated Wedding March closed a positive opening concert. As expected, Shui's interpretation delivered plenty of colour and drama. His tempos did not flag, but were fully in tune with this musical setting of Shakespeare, except for the Wedding March, which was taken at a pace that would have been a stretch for even the most athletic of bridal parties.