A night of Chopin and Shakespeare



Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall

Last Friday

It is a given that any recent winner of the Chopin International Piano Concerto in Warsaw be invited to perform one of Frederic Chopin's two piano concertos.

So it was with Russian pianist Yulianna Avdeeva, first prize winner of the 2010 edition, to do the honours in the First Piano Concerto In E minor (Op. 11).

Hers was not a typically barnstorming performance, but one more attuned to the poetic and cantabile aspects of the music.

She waited patiently as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra under music director Shui Lan concluded the long orchestral tutti before entering in a flourish of chords and octaves.

This was the full extent of the bluster as she nimbly treaded through the 1st movement's fine minutiae.

While the development was exciting, the foremost musical impulses were never lost.

The nocturne-like Romanze, accompanied by lovely hushed strings, came through like a dream and crystalline passages towards the end provided the most sublime moments of the concert.

In the rollicking finale's Polish dance, there was no racing headlong into the fray. Even a small stumble towards the end did little to diminish the grace of this sensitive and finely honed reading.

Avdeeva's encore of the post- humous Nocturne In C Sharp Minor provided more of the same beauty and was warmly applauded.

The concert's hour-long first half began with Bedrich Smetana's The Moldau from Ma Vlast (My Country), a programmatic tone poem on Bohemia's most fabled river.

Opening with fluent flutes accompanied by string pizzicatos, the course of the waterway from brooklets and streams to the pride of Prague was a picturesque journey as the music unfolded.

Hushed strings in the "dream sequence" with play of water nymphs made for a delightful diversion.

The final statement of the work's big tune based on Slavic folk music (from which the Israeli national anthem Hatikvah was also derived), with brass and percussion in full throttle, completed the rousing curtain-raiser.

A much shorter second half comprised seven scenes from Sergei Prokofiev's ballet Romeo And Juliet, part of the orchestra's commemoration of William Shakespeare's 400th death anniversary.

The piquancy of the Russian's music, extreme dissonance contrasted with flowing lyricism, was no better heard in Montagues And Capulets.

A loud percussive crash dissolved into the unison song of strings, before the feuding families of Verona went about their violent business.

The evocative scoring gave unusual instruments such as the saxophone (played by Tang Xiao Ping) and celesta (Shane Thio) moments to shine, and there were juicy solos for cellist Ng Pei Sian (The Young Juliet), violist Zhang Manchin and clarinettist Ma Yue (Romeo & Juliet Before Parting) and concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich (Dance Of The Antilles Maidens).

Strings expressed anguish like no other in Romeo At Juliet's Tomb and bounded with utmost vehemence for Mercutio's music in Tybalt's Death, the final number.

The pieces were not performed in the actual sequence of the story, but otherwise made musical sense as the tension and stridency built up to a cathartic close.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline A night of Chopin and Shakespeare. Subscribe