SSO Familiar Favourites: Beethoven Violin Concerto
Singapore Symphony Orchestra - Andrew Litton (conductor), Augustin Hadelich (violin)
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (Aug 24)
"Another week, another Mahler" could well be the classical music slogan for the year, with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) including the ever-popular Mahler Symphony no. 1 (Titan) into a concert on Beethoven's equally popular Violin Concerto.
US-based violinist Augustin Hadelich, Italian-born of German parentage, made his Singapore debut under SSO principal guest conductor Andrew Litton in a concert that impressed, but also had some disappointments.
Hadelich's career is most clearly on the ascendancy, with engagements with the New York Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw, Chicago Symphony and BBC Philharmonic orchestras to name just a few. From the first notes in the Beethoven Violin Concerto, the clarity and evenness of sound from top to bottom from his violin were captivating. Some might have found his tone colour bright, but there was a complexity in his compact sound that oozed quality.
Litton's orchestra for Beethoven had sixteen first violins, which is large for this concerto. While the SSO's playing was lush, precise and well graduated, Litton had to restrain the large orchestra in the climaxes.
Hadelich's playing provided much to admire - great fluency, a sweet and musical vibrato and a sense of ease throughout. The second movement was a touch slow, in contrast to a slightly breathless final movement. What the performance lacked was a narrative from Hadelich - his personal interpretation of this great concerto, beyond his admirable playing and very impressive cadenzas.
It was only in his favourite encore, Paganini's celebrated and fiendishly technical Caprice no. 24 that Hadelich's musicianship shone through. He played this with full panache. The violin technique on show was breathtaking, and it was delivered with great heart.
There was great heart also in Litton's reading and the SSO's performance of the "Titan" Symphony. Litton sculpted the symphony carefully from its quiet start to the closing flourish. It was an energetic reading, with liberal shifts in tempo and a youthful feel.
The percussion and trumpet sections have prominent parts in the symphony, and they were in excellent form. Timpanist Christian Schioler continued his strong performance as he did in the Beethoven concerto and Jon Paul Dante (principal trumpet) was in full control of his solos.
Horns are always in the limelight in Mahler symphonies. The expanded SSO horn section played with gusto and good unity, but their evening was marred by persistent intonation issues. The violins, led by guest concertmaster Yumi Hwang-Williams were missing the sonority and ensemble that had developed under outgoing concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich over the past four years.
Litton was careful to give shape the Landler (Austrian dance) in the second movement, and the sombre funeral procession and ironic Jewish dance of the third movement. The SSO would usually respond well to such directions from the conductor. This evening their reaction the changes in mood and tempo was less immediate, as if there was inertia to be overcome.
Music Director Lan Shui is less than five months away from his swan song (featuring Mahler, naturally) with the orchestra. The second violin principal position has been long vacant. Hopefully, the patchiness in tonight's performance was a one-off, and not a sign that the musicians are beginning to feel the impact of the transitions to come.