Almost complete farewell to the season

REVIEW / CONCERT

SSO SUBSCRIPTION CONCERT: BLACKSHAW PLAYS BEETHOVEN

Singapore Symphony Orchestra - Claus Peter Flor (conductor), Christian Blackshaw (piano)

Esplanade Concert Hall/Last Friday


The Singapore Symphony Orchestra's (SSO) 2017/18 season drew to a close with two regular guests - German conductor Claus Peter Flor and British pianist Christian Blackshaw - joining the orchestra.

Blackshaw played Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, a serene, intimate and slightly reserved concerto that fits the soloist's temperament, while Anton Bruckner's final symphony was given a heroic performance under Flor's direction.

Blackshaw's performances, since his triumphant return to the concert hall early this decade, have been greeted with acclaim for their passionate and sensitive musicianship.

Likewise, his previous performances in Singapore with the orchestra and in chamber recitals raised expectations for this evening's performance.

The gentle opening solo piano chords of the concerto were played with great sensitivity and were followed by lush, classy orchestral tones from the orchestra.

However, an unusual missed note from Blackshaw in the opening passage telegraphed a sense of unease that never fully cleared. It was a highly fluent performance of the first movement, but not sterling and blemish-free.

The short second movement was a triumph. Beethoven pits dramatic, operatic strings against a plaintive solo piano part and Blackshaw's delicate, measured touch oozed the lyricism classical music fans admire.

The third movement abounded with wit and charm. While there were moments of brilliance from Blackshaw and the SSO's winds, there were, once again, occasions when, despite Flor's efforts, soloist and orchestra were not in unison.

Completing the evening was Bruckner's last symphony, the Symphony No. 9. The composer worked heroically in his final days on this work "to my dear God". Only three of four movements were completed. Even so, the scale and complexity of what he did complete are clear to the listener.

Flor is a renowned interpreter of Bruckner.

The first movement, marked "solemn and mysterious", was directed with full conviction. The SSO responded admirably, with successive waves of crescendo and huge climaxes, followed by hushed, contemplative interludes.

The second movement, a turbulent, lively scherzo, was the highlight of the evening, with Flor pushing its insistent, pulsating rhythm to the very limit. Timpanist Christian Schioler was brilliant in his part, delivering huge crescendos that retained a sinister undertone.

The symphony ended with the slow third movement, which the composer titled Farewell To Life. Flor controlled the complexity and emotion of the movement well, right up to its quiet ending.

The challenge of Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 is that, after almost an hour of intense, heartfelt performance, the work feels incomplete.

This is not unexpected. If only Bruckner had a few more days or weeks, who knows how his final movement would have unfolded.

This evening would have been a perfect occasion to perform one of the well-regarded reconstructions of the final movement based on Bruckner's substantial sketches, such as the Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca version completed in 2012 and recorded by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

For all the pitfalls associated with performing a posthumously completed work, this would have brought the season to a more "complete" close.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2018, with the headline 'Almost complete farewell to the season'. Print Edition | Subscribe