Turandot Suite (excerpts) Mozart
Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466 Chen
Dragon Wings No.4 * Dvořák
Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60
Helen Huang (piano)
Lung Heung-wing & Mark Lung (percussion) *
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Hong Kong Philharmonic 27 Feb
Thursday, February 27, 2003 Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Rather than leave the best to last, the Hong Kong Philharmonic started with it. Conversely, the encore, Brahmss first Hungarian Dance (one of three the composer himself orchestrated), in a tediously exaggerated rendition, might have been more convincing with greater vibrancy. That was the story of the evening.
In recent years, the HKPO has acquired an international reputation, largely through recordings with David Atherton (now Conductor Laureate); Samuel Wong is maintaining the orchestras refinement and commitment. Three of Busonis eight movements introduced the orchestras personable woodwinds, warm strings and integrated brass. Busonis orientalisms are always musically stated and were done proud by Wong, whether in deft interplay, atmosphere or closing rumbustiousness; the pinpoint of mysterious string-sound at the finales opening held the breath
To a considered accompaniment, Helen Huang gave a neat if lacklustre account of the Mozart, which crucially lacked volatility let alone overt drama. The Romanze was foursquare, several times removed from classicism through the strings sheen and prissy phrasing, and the concerto as a whole sunk with a laboured account of the contrasting middle section, Huang failing to raise the requisite storm.
After 10 minutes entertainment from father and young son percussionists in John Chens derivation of popular and local elements, Dvořáks Sixth Symphony, a masterpiece still awaiting discovery in the wider world, received a serene performance that made the music seem homespun and not located as Slavonic. A seamless first movement (exposition repeat eschewed, which tied in with the composers final wishes) was certainly lovingly conducted and played, but theres more bristle to this music, and if the Adagio got more into Dvořáks finer feelings (lovely silky strings), the contrasting fiery outburst was kept in check. The Furiant scherzo unhelpfully lost a repeat and never really took wing; some timpani interruptions were unidiomatic when set beside native conductors such as Ancerl, Sejna and Kubelik.
If Wongs measured way with the Finale underlined the opening melodys kinship with its counterpart in Brahms 2, some misplaced grandiosity and over-careful articulation mitigated the musics exuberance and rendered it rather small-scale. However this partnership seems set for good things if Wong can stoke the boiler and be more identified with the music he conducts Busoni aside, which he and the HKPO have recorded for Naxos.