Concert review: Grief meets joy as SSO matches Mozart with Strauss

Under chief conductor Hans Graf's direction, Mozart became comfortable bedfellows with German composer Richard Strauss.
Under chief conductor Hans Graf's direction, Mozart became comfortable bedfellows with German composer Richard Strauss.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM SINGAPORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA/FACEBOOK

Concert review

METAMORPHOSEN AND MOZART WITH HANS GRAF

Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Friday (Nov 6), Sistic Live

One unforeseen consequence of the present pandemic and social distancing measures has been the proliferation of chamber music performances.

This period, when large-scale symphonies, choral works and operas cannot be performed, has been a boon for composers such as Bach, Mozart and Haydn, whose output includes works for chamber-sized groups.

The latest Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) concerts have followed this trend, smartly juxtaposing classical composers with those from the 20th century.

Under chief conductor Hans Graf's direction, Mozart became comfortable bedfellows with German composer Richard Strauss in a digital programme that contrasted grief and mourning with verve and jollity.

Strauss' Metamorphosen (1945) is a late autumnal work for 23 string musicians, composed in the wake of World War II's horrors when Germany, originally the aggressor, had been soundly defeated and its cities laid to waste by Allied bombing.

A far cry from his brash tone poems and opulent operas, its austere half-hour was served with the solemnity and decorum it deserved.

The SSO strings were, as usual, sumptuously sonorous without trivialising the requiem they were delivering. Graf expertly reined in the pacing of the narrative, with tempos which neither dragged nor became a caricature of the funereal message.

He neatly layered varied textures, with solos by concertmaster Kong Zhao Hui emerging like a beacon through a mist of strings.

The music gradually built up to a cathartic climax, before a quote from Funeral March from Beethoven's Eroica Symphony near the end reminded listeners that this work marked a definitive end to a sorry epoch in history.

This was followed by Mozart's Serenade In B Flat Major (K.361), also called the Gran Partita, scored for 12 winds and double bass.

Its seven movements spelt pure delight from start to finish, with pin-point playing and nimble articulation throughout. The slow introduction to the opening movement provided a sense of sobriety before the festivities were unleashed.

The slow Adagio third movement reminded one of a memorable scene from the 1984 movie Amadeus, reliving Italian composer Antonio Salieri's vivid description of the oboe's sublime entry: "A single note, hanging there, unwavering..."

To this end, principal oboist Rachel Walker's pristine solo seemed to perfectly embody Mozart's spirituality and divinely ordained gifts.

The ensuing movements were no less inspired, with performances to match. The jaunty Menuetto contrasted well with the stately Romance and its animated central section, while the sixth movement's inventive Theme And Variations provided a neat summation of the players' responsiveness and proficiency.

All was brought to bear in the fast and furious Rondo finale, milked for all its worth, a heady romp towards a happy close.

  • BOOK IT/METAMORPHOSEN AND MOZART WITH HANS GRAF

  • WHERE Sistic Live

    WHEN Available until Nov 20, 8pm

    ADMISSION Pay-as-you-wish, $10, $20, $30, $50 via Sistic (call 6348 5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO sso.org.sg