Refreshing take on classic Grieg



Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Javier Perianes, piano, Michal Nesterowicz, conductor

Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Friday

Once upon a time in the world of classical music, you could not go anywhere without stumbling across Grieg's Piano Concerto.

Orchestras big, little, good and bad played it at every opportunity. It dribbled endlessly out of hidden speakers in hotel lobbies and amateur pianists would spontaneously burst into its opening cascade or its syrupy main theme in the hope that nobody would realise that was the limit of their public repertory.

Somewhere along the line, Grieg's Piano Concerto seemed to fall out of favour, so hearing it last Friday evening was like reviving a long-lost friendship.

Javier Perianes is not a muscular pianist, but neither is he a sentimental one and his performance of the Grieg was refreshingly direct.

There were flashes of vivid colour - evidence of his Spanish heritage - and moments of gentle caress, and with the first movement cadenza, he produced a tone so haunting and other-worldly, one wondered why the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) had not programmed this concerto a couple of months later to tie in with Halloween.

What made the performance particularly bracing was conductor Michal Nesterowicz's brisk, no- nonsense approach, never allowing the music to wallow in its own expressive lagoons, but always steering it onwards with a clear sense of direction.

The Grieg Concerto is, at heart, little more than a collection of nice tunes strung together not always particularly well, but here was a performance which gave it a strong aura of cohesion.

No report of this performance could be allowed to pass without mention of Jamie Hersch's exquisite horn playing. Such was the audience's adulation of Perianes that the orchestra and conductor got rather sidelined, but Hersch at least would have fully deserved a personal ovation all of his own.

Orchestra and conductor had the stage to themselves for Tchaikovsky's Hamlet Overture and Sibelius' Third Symphony where, again, Nesterowicz pushed things along briskly with a powerful sense of purpose.

This resulted in a stirring - if slightly ragged - performance of the Tchaikovsky, but it transformed Sibelius' Finnish peasant dances into something more suited to a Polish dockside tavern.

Nesterowicz is an exceptionally tall conductor who, standing flat on the stage surrounded by the strings with neither rostrum nor music stand, towered monumentally over the orchestra. From this elevated vantage point, he seemed to draw up from the SSO string players a sound of ravishing beauty.

This made its presence most potently felt in the encore - Sibelius' Valse Triste - which the SSO musicians offered as their own personal tribute to the late Mr S R Nathan. It was a deeply moving climax to a day of highly charged emotion.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'Refreshing take on classic Grieg'. Print Edition | Subscribe