Not the Big Three – The Philharmonic Orchestra – Lin Juan – 12 Jul 2019

conductor, Lin Juan

Giovanni Paisiello : Overture to The Barber of Seville
C.P.E. (Carl Philipp Emanuel) Bach : Symphony No.1 in E-flat Major
Antonio Salieri: Sinfonia Veneziana in D Major
Luigi Cherubini: Overture to Medea
Franz Schubert: Symphony No.5

The Philharmonic Orchestra
Lin Juan, conductor

12 Jul 2019
Victoria Concert Hall

Review by Lim Xin Hwee

An admission: this was my first time hearing The Philharmonic Orchestra. Titled ‘Not The Big Three’, this evening cast the spotlight onto four composers, all of no little fame in their time, but relegated into relative obscurity by their contemporaries. Somewhere in musical limbo are composers who would have been very proud of having their works performed, and so well at that.

Giovanni Paisiello

Beginning with Giovanni Paisiello’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, the orchestra got off to a breathtaking start. It was clear from the get-go that though small, the orchestra held their own, with a cohesive and robust sound under the baton of Maestro Lin Juan. This composition sounded grander and more exciting than Rossini’s version.

C.P.E Bach

The next piece exposed some of the orchestra’s weaknesses though. The first violins sounded a bit shrill in C.P.E. Bach’s three-movement Symphony No. 1 in D Major, in stark contrast to the round and warm tones of the other sections. Despite being a rather short piece, it was jam-packed with repeated musical phrases and arpeggio motifs that require good coordination between the different string sections. This was handled well. However, the sound was also overall flimsy due to the lack of power from the brass section. Towards the end of the last movement, the orchestra seemed to lose focus. The emotional sensitivity that was supposed to be conveyed somehow just dissipated. Individual sections played competently, but when put together, the product was not as cogent as I’d have liked it. 

Antonio Salieri

They fully redeemed themselves in the next piece, Sinfonia Veneziana in D Major by Antonio Salieri, a symphony in three movements as well. The brass sounded a bit rushed and did not exactly stick to Lin’s tempo, which was off-putting for me. However, the interpretation of this piece was evocative of Venice – grand buildings, singing gondoliers, quintessentially Italian aesthetics, sans the pesky pickpockets.

In Luigi Cherubini’s Overture to Medea, the bass-heavy orchestra would prove to be suited to communicating the drama that is demanded of this piece. At the end of it, my heart was racing. I wanted Maria Callas to come out and sing – but there was an announcement for the intermission instead.

Luigi Cherubini

During the intermission, a “Concert Chatter” was held where concertgoers could interact with the members of the orchestra – that was a nice touch. It was half an hour, and people could finally let out all the coughs they certainly tried their best to hold back during each of the pieces.

Then the Schubert’s 5th Symphony happened. In the first movement, the violins were somehow faster than the rest of the orchestra, but that was quickly remedied by Lin. The flutes were so beautifully played and were, for me, the highlight of the first movement. The orchestra paid a lot of careful attention to the emotional intensity that the second movement commanded; kudos to the cellos and double bass sections for making it so colourful. They played with a warm richness that lent to the work’s sophistication. In the final two movements, Lin’s choice of tempo and dynamics made the symphony so beautiful to me. It was like I was looking at a pastoral painting that was animated. Every one of his musical decisions was intelligent and well-considered.

Exuberant, I believe, is the word I would use to describe this whole concert, and I certainly look forward to The Philharmonic Orchestra’s next performance.

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