Adept playing let down by music choice



Singapore Symphony Orchestra/ Andreas Delfs (conductor), Lu Wei (violin)

Victoria Concert Hall/Last Friday

This was not the season close the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) had planned. It was, however, the almost inevitable consequence of booking an ageing conductor whose reputation was made back in the 1970s.

So, instead of Neeme Jarvi - who is 79 next month - and Rubbra's eccentric orchestration of Brahms' Variations On A Theme Of Handel, concertgoers had the sprightly Andreas Delfs (57 in August) and the natural fluency of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony.

The Haydn Symphony originally planned for the programme was also changed from the magnificently witty 86th to the wondrously witty 83rd - which, because of its clucking first movement, goes under the nickname of The Hen and so complemented the Beethoven in its nominal association with the natural world.

The Haydn performance was genial rather than refreshing, Delfs relishing the witty moments of silence and still-born accompaniment rather more than matters of style and balance. The orchestra played it well enough, but perhaps it had more than a hint of being on auto-pilot for much of the time.

Not so the Beethoven, which received a performance that was not so much refreshing as inspirational. Invigorating speeds, vivid dynamics and glorious playing gave it distinction, but it was Delfs' sense of line and phrase which made it genuinely inspiring. He moulded every phrase as it passed from one section of the orchestra to another into a gloriously flowing stream of unending melody. And there were moments when the depth of tone he drew from the orchestra sent a real frisson down the spine.

Forming a weighty wedge between the two symphonies was the Violin Concerto by Julius Conus. Chinese violinist Lu Wei worked wonders with a solo part which jerked uneasily from the gently cloying to the violently dramatic, but even his gift for undemonstrative virtuosity could not shake off the feeling of aimlessness in its 20-minute duration.

Lu's need to have the music propped up on a stand in front of him possibly did nothing to ease communication of this rambling work, but any awkward sounds which came from the performance were neither of his nor the orchestra's making, the latter coping tremendously with Conus' cumbersome writing. And they certainly were not the result of Delfs' Herculean efforts to keep the whole thing on the rails.

The fault lay squarely on a concerto which, with the best will in the world, deserves its place in oblivion. Hopefully, the SSO will not think to resurrect it any time soon.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'Adept playing let down by music choice'. Print Edition | Subscribe