Apt reading of moods in second half



Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Shui Lan (conductor), Charles Richard-Hamelin (piano)

Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Friday

Canadian pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin has been a busy young man since winning the second prize at the 2015 International Chopin Piano Competition.

Predictably, he performed a Chopin piano concerto, while the rest of the programme was a selection of Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) music director Shui Lan's favourite, but lesser-known orchestral suites.

Of his two piano concertos, Chopin's Second Piano Concerto is played far less than the first. Hamelin (no relation to the superstar pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin) performed as one would expect of a top prize-winner - full of sensitivity and with disarming ease.

His first movement lacked the stature and majesty suggested by the composer's marking of maestoso, but the following movements were well judged and highly listenable.

Although published as his second piano concerto, this was, in fact, Chopin's first concerto, written before he was 20.

The orchestral part is a pale match to his brilliant solo piano part and there are accounts that Chopin had to call on fellow composers to assist him with the orchestration. Shui put in much effort to support Hamelin sympathetically, but there was a sense of detachment between soloist and orchestra that was never bridged.

The concert opened with Armenian-American composer Richard Yardumian's Armenian Suite, arranged by Ofer Ben-Amots for a smaller orchestra. The seven miniature movements, one of which was barely more than half a minute long, are based on Armenian folk melodies and dances, given touches of modernist temporal and harmonic twists.

Shui and his musicians provided a neat, pleasant reading, but little in the work stood out. Yardumian's adaptations of the traditional melodies detracted, rather than added to their charm.

The audience had noticeably thinned out after the first half, with some of the Chopin lovers calling it a night early. This was their loss, as the dramatic, emotional symphonic poems of the early 20th century that followed are just what Shui and the SSO excel in.

The Enchanted Lake by Anatol Liadov is a six-minute work on the composer's depiction of a fairy-tale scene from his own imagination. The music is moody and highly atmospheric, and Shui led a well-oiled SSO in a reading that was controlled and well shaped.

The quiet, evocative image of Liadov's lake was followed by The Poem Of Ecstasy by Alexander Scriabin, a work that could hardly be more contrasting.

Written for a huge orchestra, its eight movements encompass a succession of moods, with trumpets and horns playing themes that repeat and develop through the work. Principal trumpet Jon Dante was brilliant throughout, as was his trumpet section, and the rest of the SSO was in excellent form also.

The programme notes list a plethora of moods that Scriabin pens into the movements - from languid through assertive to triumphant.

Shui's ability to draw the musicians of the SSO along is undisputed and he worked through the range of emotions with unstinting commitment. He injected a sense of angst and struggle to the work, which felt perfectly apt, and led the strong performance to an extended, ecstatic climax.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2017, with the headline 'Apt reading of moods in second half'. Print Edition | Subscribe