Concert Review: A Farewell for Tasmin Little (Singapore Symphony Orchestra, 13 Feb 2020)


PROKOFIEV Selections from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64
BRUCH Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26
BRAHMS Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90

Gerard Schwarz, conductor
Tasmin Little, violin

Thursday, February 13, 2020
Esplanade Concert Hall

Review by Jorim Sim

Billed as ‘A Farewell For Tasmin Little’, the popular programme ensured a rather decent turn-out despite recent fears from COVID-19, with much to enjoy for those who did.

The evening’s first offering was Selections from Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev. With its masterful orchestration, this provided the ideal platform for conductor Gerard Schwarz to make magic. Right from the downbeat, crisp entrances by horns layered on top of each other built up to a large tutti sound which disappeared as cleanly as it materialized, giving way to muted strings led by guest concertmaster, Wang Jing. Wide contrasts in dynamics were pristinely executed, with the brass particularly on point, punching out the counter-melody with unified articulation and adding to the tension and ominous mood of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets.

Schwarz balanced the textures thoughtfully: in the second section the thick orchestral passages gave way to a flute solo, beautifully phrased with each reprise sensitively supported by the accompanying woodwinds and later the strings. The strings shone once again in the second movement, Juliet – the Young Girl, with collective and energetic scalic runs, characterizing the mercurial Juliet winningly. In the Death of Tybalt, Schwarz employed a rather exciting and fast tempo, and the audience were treated to a crisp and clean tackling of the all-too-familiar devilish passage for violins.

Bruch’s first Violin Concerto is a standard in the violin repertoire and with the numerous interpretations out there, it is impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach that will please everyone. However, there were moments of beauty that came together to make this performance a memorable one. For the first movement, Little opted for a more conservative tempo, carefully articulating each arpeggiated run flawlessly. Favouring sweetness of tone over projection from her violin, there was a certain lack of emotional drive at first, which was fortunately regained in later tutti sections.

The attacca into the second movement gave a seamless transition into a brand new scene, with Little’s statement of the lyrical first theme lingering dreamily over the orchestra, taking the audience along as she unravelled the melody. There were moments where Schwarz, unusually, highlighted the countermelody in the horns, albeit at a dynamic which threatened to overpower the solo violin. The third movement was taken at a comfortable tempo but I would have preferred for the dactylic rhythms to be more articulate. The rousing Finale gave way to cheers and generous applause from the audience, to which Little responded by giving an encore of Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances Nos. 5 & 6. The folk element and rhythmic drive was well brought out by great right-hand technique, concluding an overall commendable performance.

Brahms’ Third Symphony began with the clear layering of textures which carried over from the Prokofiev. The syncopations and the various implied meters that might cause orchestras to fall apart, were kept under control by Schwarz. The beautiful mixing of timbral colours of the different instruments showed his understanding and experience in balancing the orchestra. The second movement was taken at a fluid tempo, with gorgeous woodwind playing, painting a picturesque pastoral scene.

Overall, long lines were heard in Brahms’ use of chromatic voice leading, although there were flashes when the woodwinds and brasses were not together. While some might have taken a slower tempo to milk the lyrical third movement, Schwarz’s choice of a brisker tempo brought the audience along for a ride in one of the most famous movements in symphonic history. The cello section collectively gave an earnest rendition of the melody which was passed around the orchestra. The horn solo which followed later was beautifully phrased and sung. The fourth movement had the audience on the edge of their seats with the superb navigation of tempo changes, articulate strings and blending of instrumental colours. 

All in all, while there were brief moments of imperfection, one can see the bigger picture of the artistic ideas both Little and Schwarz were communicating to the audience, certainly making this concert a fitting farewell for Little.

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