REVIEW / CONCERT
THE COMPLETE BEETHOVEN SYMPHONIES - CONCERT 4
Lin Ching-Ju (soprano), Angela Cortez (mezzo-soprano), Lin Chien-Chi (tenor), William Lim (bass), Nafa Chamber Choir, The Philharmonic Chamber Choir, The Philharmonic Orchestra, Lim Yau (conductor)
Victoria Concert Hall/Sunday
One word which springs to mind with this Beethoven series is speed.
Conductor Lim Yau drives everything along with such impetuosity that this has not seemed so much like a journey through Beethoven's symphonic output, as a race.
That emphasis on speed was evident in Sunday's penultimate concert of the series, with a Ninth Symphony that clocked in at about 65 minutes and a First Symphony which was interrupted in its frantic momentum only by the tiresome inevitability of a phalanx of latecomers leisurely making their way to their seats between the first and second movements.
The Philharmonic Orchestra, however, had no problems with Lim's hair-raising tempi for the First Symphony. It is a very fine orchestra and, while the opening moments and much of the inner detail did not bear close scrutiny, this was overall wonderfully vivid playing.
It was a performance full of wit and youthful high spirits and, as a result, hugely enjoyable.
Performances of the Ninth are often major events, eagerly anticipated high points in the classical music calendar. That does not seem to be the case here, however, possibly because a surfeit of big blockbuster symphonies by Mahler and Bruckner has dulled Singaporean music sensitivities to the astonishing monumental physicality of Beethoven's work.
The notion that this was just another Beethoven symphony - without artistic, musical, historic, social or political significance - seemed to have taken hold in the orchestra.
The first three movements were lacklustre and ragged, while balance, poise, shape and colour were glossed over in the haste to get each movement over and done with.
Things did not improve even after the performance had been interrupted by an abortive attempt to get the orchestra properly in tune after a particularly sour second movement.
It took the commanding vocal presence of William Lim to bring gravitas and substance to what had so far been flimsy and superficial. Along with the other members of the solo quartet, he transformed the performance into something special.
Lin Ching-Ju's soaring soprano had such immense power that it sent shivers down the spine - and set at least one member of the audience off in spontaneous applause.
With Lim Yau in command, exemplary choral singing can be guaranteed. And so it proved to be here, despite the odd spectacle of Lim leaning over the stage to urge on the female voices lined up in pairs before the audience and looking like competing dragon boat crews.
While the orchestra had faltered, the singers rescued the work with their flawless technical command. In its final moments, the performance of Beethoven's Ninth was transformed into something truly inspiring.