Rousing end to Beethoven tribute



Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Stephen Hough, piano

Shui Lan, conductor

Esplanade Concert Hall/Thursday

The third concert of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's cycle of the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos brought its two-week-long collaboration with British pianist Stephen Hough to an end. 

The many facets of his playing that have made him one of the world's most celebrated pianists were lapped up by audiences on all three nights and his self-effacing virtuosity were equally matched by the SSO's high-octane accompaniment.

However, the Beethoven Piano Concertos must be the most overdone concerto cycle in the world and, while it was a privilege watching Hough and Shui Lan work their magic, it would take the most ardent of Beethoven fans to want to hear all five works again soon.

On the last night, Hough opened with Piano Concerto No. 3 In C Minor, Op. 37. Written in 1800, it was the German composer's only concerto in a minor key, and the tragedy and drama of the work perhaps reflected his struggles with increasing deafness.

Shui carefully paced the orchestra in the opening tutti and the unison strings brought a level of nervousness that served the concerto well. Although one might associate a minor key with a darker and more sombre tone colour, in this concerto, Hough's ever transparent approach was unexpectedly appropriate.

Despite his loss of hearing, Beethoven composed his greatest works during this period and changed the way composers viewed form and structure of music.

Hough played to the composer's strengths and refused to be drawn into a state of melodrama, treating the delicate theme in the second movement as a statement of will rather than a sorrow-filled lament.

The second half of the concert featured another Germanic composer, Anton Bruckner, often viewed as the greatest symphonist of the Romantic era.

His Symphony No. 8 In C Minor contained music of breathtaking significance and the orches- tra's intense and tightly wound approach to the spacious tempi projected a sense of grandeur and brought a strong sense of tradition to the work.  

One's musical senses were given a real treat as the chilling chasms of dissonances in the first movement were often at odds with the power and grandeur of the orchestration. The brass section also rose to the occasion, providing fervour, hitting the high notes confidently and swallowing the listeners in a sea of resonance.

It was said that Bruckner himself exclaimed "Hallelujah!" upon completing his revelatory finale and it was a fitting end that cheers of "Bravo!" greeted the end of this rousing performance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2015, with the headline 'Rousing end to Beethoven tribute'. Print Edition | Subscribe