SSO Concert: Barber's Violin Concerto
Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Lan Shui (conductor), Igor Yuzefovich (violin)
Esplanade Concert Hall/Yesterday night
The concertmaster of a symphony orchestra has many roles to play - from leading the orchestra in concert and playing the solo violin parts in orchestral works to a host of rehearsal and pre-concert responsibilities. One of the perks of the job is to perform as a concerto soloist with the orchestra.
In his second concerto with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra since he joined in late 2013, Russia-born American concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich has chosen one of the best known concertos written by an American, the Violin Concerto by Samuel Barber.
The prelude to the concerto was Danses Concertante by Stravinsky. Similar in style to his better known piece Dumbarton Oaks, the work is written for a small orchestra, in five colourful and animated dance movements.
Principal conductor Lan Shui directed with great energy and attention to detail, and the musicians responded with spirited, neat playing. Whereas Shui tried to draw out the subtle twists and turns in the music, the musicians as a whole seemed unclear about what to make of them, leading to a highly competent but uninspiring performance.
The upside to performing a concerto with one's own orchestra is that the soloist and musicians have a deep connection that comes from hours of playing together. This was evident from the opening notes of the Barber concerto, where the violin soloist starts immediately with his solo together with the orchestra.
If the SSO musicians had not seemed fully convinced by Stravinsky's Danses, they were utterly committed in the Barber concerto. Every section, every musician gave their all, and they blended remarkably with Yuzefovich.
The strength of Yuzefovich's playing would be no surprise to anyone who had heard his performance of Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the SSO. Last night, he took another step up, and there was genuine partnership between conductor and orchestra in one of the most convincing SSO concerto performances in recent times.
His exquisite sound, fluid bowing, impeccable phrasing and fine sense of direction made for a wonderfully complete solo performance.
The final movement of the concerto was a technical tour de force for soloist and orchestra, with the soloist playing in moto pertpetuo (a rapid stream of notes) throughout. Yuzefovich, however, never tried to wow the audience with technique alone, but won them over with his control and beautifully measured dynamics.
Shui and the SSO fully deserved Yuzefovich's acknowledgement after the end of the concerto. Supported by the intimate acoustics of the Victoria Concert Hall, they provided warm, sumptuous accompaniment that was integral to the success of the performance.
The Barber concerto was not an easy act to follow. Mozart's Symphony No. 38, Prague, is among his best known, and once again the SSO delivered a well-prepared performance, under Shui's typically robust and brisk direction.
The orchestra has made strides in its playing of classical and early romantic repertoire. However, the slow movement could have done with a gentler touch, and Shui's tempo in the final movement made for a rather breathless closing.