REVIEW / CONCERT
BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTOS
NO. 2 & 5/Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Hough, Piano, Ng Pei-Sian, Cello, Shui Lan, Conductor
ESPLANADE CONCERT HALL/Wednesday
British-born pianist Stephen Hough is an impressive polymath, being also a respected writer, painter and composer, as his MacArthur Fellowship awarded for significant contributions to the field of literature and science would attest.
In Wednesday's programme, he showed his mettle first as composer then as pianist and proved the forgotten art of composer-pianist is still very much alive.
The evening opened with his first orchestral composition, The Loneliest Wilderness, Elegy For Cello And Orchestra, played by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO). Rooted in late romanticism, it is based on two stanzas by Herbert Read, about an army officer stricken with fear over losing his fellow comrades.
BOOK IT / BEETHOVEN PIANO CONCERTOS WITH STEPHEN HOUGH
WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall
WHEN: Tomorrow and Sept 10, 7.30pm
ADMISSION: $15 to $75 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
INFO: A pre-concert talk will be held at library@esplanade from 6.30 to 7pm
The opening meditative descending fourths were given a mysterious aura by cellist Ng Pei-Sian, yet the uncertainty of the recurring motif over strings was controlled with care by conductor Shui Lan.
Although the music cried out for a broader approach by both ensemble and soloist at more passionate moments, the compact orchestration often let the music speak for itself.
Hough took to the ivories for the second part of the programme, tackling Beethoven's two contrasting concertos: No. 2 In B Flat Major Op. 19, which retains the early classical charm of Mozart, and No. 5 In E Flat Major Op. 79, nicknamed "Emperor", a grand statement of his mastery in orchestration.
The first piece was unevenly executed. The opening orchestra tutti lacked vibrancy and playfulness and dynamic contrasts were barely noticeable. Also, it was puzzling that a pianist known for his dynamic performances would opt for a restrained approach here.
It did jump to life in the third movement, Rondo, but regrettably, much of the lyricism of the Adagio was lost to a hurried tempo.
Things picked up in the Emperor concerto. In his comfort zone now, Hough displayed masterful responses to the subtle neurotic changes in the music. Under less thoughtful musicians, this overplayed piece could have come across as obnoxious, but both conductor and soloist paid equal attention to tender moments and proclamatory bursts.
The marvel of the second movement was in listening to Hough floating in serenity, with Beethoven's creativity transforming a single descending scale into a moment of utter exquisiteness.
The closing Rondo, infused with great urgency and romp, was a perfect end to the evening and gave audiences something to look forward to: Hough will join the SSO over the next fortnight for the complete cycle of the Beethoven Piano Concertos.