Satisfying rendition of Beethoven by home-grown orchestra



The Philharmonic Orchestra

Esplanade Recital Studio/Wednesday

One can never tire of Beethoven's symphonies. Good performances of his nine symphonies offer an inexhaustible source of inspiration and new insights.

After last week's all-Beethoven concert by the Orchestre des Champs-Elysees, this week saw The Philharmonic Orchestra (TPO) led by Lim Yau holding its own in the second of five concerts commemorating its 15th anniversary.

TPO was the first local orchestra to perform the complete Beethoven symphony cycle at the Esplanade in 2003. The orchestra, filled with mostly young musicians, is an even better ensemble than it was then, though one factor remains constant: the tireless mind and steadfast hands of conductor Lim.

In performing Jonathan del Mar's edition of the symphonies, he keeps in touch with the latest Beethoven performing traditions. There is no portentousness for its own sake, but the brimming vitality and unquenchable passion that the iconoclastic German brought to his music.

The declamatory opening chords of the Second and Third symphonies alone served as statements of intent, both delivered with a unanimity of purpose. And as the Haydnesque Second Symphony In D Major (1802) was presented with lightness and vigour, there was no doubt that this was going to be an absorbing evening.

After a well-paced slow introduction, the main meat of the first movement was projected with energy and virility, contrasted with the more rustic slow movement and final two fast movements.

If only latecomers had not dawdled but settled in their seats swiftly, the spell would not have been disrupted. It was disrespectful to keep the orchestra, conductor, audience and Beethoven waiting.

The orchestra's performance of the Third Symphony In E Flat Major (1804), also known as the Eroica, was even better.

The punched-out chords that ushered in its first movement were followed by a succession of similar defiant gestures and clenched fists that informed Beethoven's tribute to the memory of a hero (originally Napoleon Bonaparte, but later angrily withdrawn) - hence its nickname, which is Italian for "heroic".

The development to a climax of angst-filled dissonance was a thrilling one. The slow movement's Funeral March was imbued with genuine gravitas, its weighty procession made more poignant with oboist Veda Lin's significant solos.

Past its climax was the four-note Fate motif, uttered by the French horns, that would later famously surface in the Fifth Symphony. One should not be too surprised since this movement was also in C minor.

This continued into a breakneck Scherzo, where the French horn trio of Christopher Shen, Lewis Chong and Luke Lim acquitted themselves well.

The finale, a set of variations on a dance from Beethoven's ballet The Creatures Of Prometheus, romped joyously to its final conclusion.

That this concert by a local semi-professional outfit could generate as much enjoyment and satisfaction as last week's Orchestre des Champs-Elysees was an indication of its progress.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2017, with the headline 'Satisfying rendition of Beethoven by home-grown orchestra'. Print Edition | Subscribe