For the second week running, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's (SSO) concert programme did not include a concerto or guest soloist, with German conductor Claus Peter Flor and orchestra choosing instead to perform symphonies by Haydn and Brahms in a thoroughly satisfying concert at the Victoria Concert Hall on May 15.
Like a number of Haydn's other symphonies, the Symphony No. 101, 'The Clock' included elements of pointed humour - in this case a reference to the (lack of) punctuality of his concert audiences in London. From the slow, stately opening section, followed by a vivacious presto, Flor directed a stylish Haydn that captured the composer's wit and sense of occasion. The clock motif bassoons and plucked strings that provided the characteristic tick-tock in the second movement were precise and nicely shaped.
Flor chose to use only a quartet of string players in the recap of the themes in the first and final movements - a higher risk, but also an effective choice. His decision to apply a noticeable decrescendo in the third bar of the third movement minuet was slightly disconcerting though. The Haydn was high energy stuff, akin to enjoying a ride on an open top roadster. It is too easy to dismiss the composer's prodigious symphonic output as somehow lessening its artistic value, but Flor and the SSO prove that in the right hands, a Haydn symphony can be uplifting and immensely enjoyable.
The conductor used a slightly larger string section in Brahms' Second Symphony, and the excellent ensemble with which he ended the first half carried over to the second. He and the orchestra were in full flow, with some gorgeous horn and cello tone carrying the two well loved melodies in the first movement.
The second movement has greater intensity than the slow movements in Brahms' other symphonies, and there was a depth and spaciousness in sound that few other conductors of the SSO have matched. A genial third movement and highly spirited finale followed. Special mention is due to the cellos, principal horn Han Chang Chou, and timpanist Christian Schioler for their very musical playing.
Maestro Flor and the SSO captured well the essence of Haydn's and Brahms' symphonic writing in a programme that to some may not consider especially interesting, and from observation the Victoria Concert Hall was less full than at recent SSO concerts. This is a pity, as this performance was of the highest order, as acknowledged by a very appreciative audience.
As is the case for some SSO concerts at the VCH, this concert is repeated on Saturday. Catch it if you can, and you will surely be convinced.