Prom 61: Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Lan Shui – Glinka & Rachmaninov – Andreas Haefliger plays Zhou Long’s Postures

Ruslan and Ludmilla – Overture
Zhou Long
Postures [BBC & Singapore Symphony Orchestra co-commission: European premiere]
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27

Andreas Haefliger (piano)

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Lan Shui

Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: 2 September, 2014
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Lan Shui conducts the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in their debut at the BBC Proms 2014. Photograph: Chris ChristodoulouThe Singapore Symphony Orchestra (boasting a large number of nationalities amongst its members) and its music director since 1997, Lan Shui, provided a thought-provoking Prom crowned by an impressive performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony.

If only the first half had been so memorable: while the detailing, balancing and string articulation heard in the Glinka were impressive, there was a significant lessening of energy towards the end. The European premiere of Beijing-born Zhou Long’s 25-minute Postures (2014) followed. The Singapore Symphony has recorded various contemporary works, and Lan Shui sports a passion for new music. Zhou Long moved to the USA in the 1980s and his music mixes oriental scales and harmonies with more familiar references, such as Bartók (in the rhythms of the outer movements, ‘Pianodance’ and ‘Pianodrums’), Stravinsky (Petrushka), touches of Hindemith and even, in the finale, the more sensual side of Rimsky-Korsakov.Composer Zhou Long bows alongside Andreas Haefliger and Lan Shui following the European premiere of his Postures at the BBC Proms 2014. Photograph: Chris ChristodoulouThe composer asks the pianist to stand and strum the strings inside the piano in the central panel, ‘PIanobells”’. The music is very gestural throughout, and seems at times to veer towards a score to an imagined film. There is no denying Zhou Long’s technique, expertise and imagination. Yet there is the feeling that the piece is too long for its materials, despite the fervent enthusiasm of Andreas Haefliger and the orchestra, but there was nothing in this undeniably entertaining piece to suggest a return visit would pay dividends. As an encore, Haefliger offered Luciano Berio’s fascinating and atmospheric Wasserklavier.

Finally, Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, no easy piece to bring off successfully. Lan Shui (conducting from memory) led with evident mastery. Not everything was well judged – some ‘off’ woodwind ensemble early on, somewhat under-projected clarinet solos from Ma Yue and overall the sound could have demonstrated more depth. But on the positive side, the conductor kept things flowing beautifully throughout as well as convincingly delineating the structure of the long first movement. The second had plenty of energy (and a slightly scrappy fugato section); the Adagio had a nice sense of motion and with no over-sentimentalising. The wide-ranging finale was convincingly projected.

The encore was well chosen, William Walton’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, a delicious march, delightful from first to last and played with real aplomb.

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