Mehta scales great heights

Zubin Mehta effortlessly guided the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from sweet pianissimos to hard-hitting climaxes.
Zubin Mehta effortlessly guided the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra from sweet pianissimos to hard-hitting climaxes. PHOTO: MARCO BRESCIA

Conductor's deep connection with the orchestra was clear

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is the only visiting orchestra to commemorate SG50 with two concerts. In November 2014, maestro Zubin Mehta led the orchestra in a pre- SG50 concert in Singapore, one let down by the ill-suited acoustics and electronic sound enhancement of the theatre at Marina Bay Sands. This reprise by the orchestra and its beloved conductor, marking the orchestra's 80th anniversary, was therefore most warmly welcome.

Following the orchestra's tradition, it opened with the national anthem of the host country. The heartfelt conviction and respect bestowed on Majulah Singapura set the mood for great things to come.

The programme proper opened with one of Beethoven's longest orchestral overtures, Leonore Overture No. 3. With its solemn opening and extended development that leads into the melody depicting Florestan's lament, Mehta's control and clear phrasing was evident, and the orchestra's comfort with his style of direction obvious.

Like so many other orchestras worldwide, string vibrato has been tastefully moderated from what would have been heard in the past, while the unity of sound and the deep musicianship among the players remain hallmarks of the orchestra.



    Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

    Zubin Mehta - conductor

    Esplanade Concert Hall/Thursday

Ravel's La Valse demands the conductor and musicians to dance in tandem through a kaleidoscope of chromatic and dynamic modulations. The orchestra's familiarity with the piece and work Mehta had put in with them preparing it were a double-edged sword. The playing was impressive, but the sense of carefree abandon and risk that the music calls for proved elusive.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, better know as the Pathetique, followed the intermission. With the symphony's lighter orchestration and the musicians' increased comfort with the hall's acoustics came greater precision, tonal range and more expressiveness in the playing.

Mehta's tempos were always comfortable and he effortlessly guided the orchestra from sweet pianissimos to hard-hitting climaxes. The opening movement and sprightly third movement were most satisfying and amid a very high level of playing, the principal bassoon and timpani stood out.

An otherwise enjoyable evening, which closed with encores of the Waltz from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and a Strauss Polka, was marred by a patron clearing his sinuses without let up. This was compounded by applause between all movements of the symphony, to the extent that the finale could not proceed for almost half a minute.

Visiting musicians will certainly notice this behaviour, which is increasing in frequency especially in high-profile gala concerts. Some attention from concert presenters is called for.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline 'Mehta scales great heights'. Print Edition | Subscribe