Concert Review: From Across the Causeway – Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, 1 Sep 2018, Victoria Concert Hall
Vivian Chua: Mercu Kegemilangan
Copland: Clarinet Concerto
Beethoven Symphony No.5 in c minor
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra
1 September 2018, Victoria Concert Hall
Review by Derek Lim
This well-attended concert at the Victoria Concert Hall, titled ‘From Across the Causeway’ showed off our neighbours, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, in startling form.
Opening the evening was Vivian Chua’s ‘Mercu Kegemilangan’, where she ‘endeavours to capture … the spirit of the MPO’. Attractively written in a resolutely diatonic musical language, with few harmonic surprises, this three-themed short piece lasted about ten minutes, starting with a brilliant flourish that moves into a more expressive, pastoral theme and lastly into the
Up next was Copland’s clarinet concerto, featuring the orchestra’s own clarinet principal, Gonzalo Esteban. Taking a slightly slower tempo than is usual for the concerto’s pensive, lullaby-like first movement, marked ‘Slowly and expressively’, Esteban’s excellent breath control allowed for beautiful tone production in all registers, even the very highest, with especially
His very expressive phrasing was matched by his orchestra’s sensitive accompaniment, with some especially sympathetic playing in the strings. The bravura cadenza saw his playing transition into something freer – taking Benny Goodman’s cue, this was played ‘straight’ – before moving into the second movement. Playfully rendered, Esteban even introduced a bit of ‘swing’ here, with lots of charm and wit – a great end to the evening’s first half, and
The second half was hardly less impressive. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is so well-known by orchestras and audiences alike that everyone has an opinion on how it should go.
The first movement’s fortissimo motif, played in tempo, was strongly stated, and with great impact, but the quick tempo maintained throughout the movement, coupled with the VCH’s wet acoustics meant that the silences between phrases
Less satisfying was the mezzo-forte level taken throughout much of the symphony, which had the effect of muting the climaxes and blunting the inexorable build-up from minor to major. And the MPO was excellent, no doubt, but where was the Beethovenian struggle? When the finale’s C major came it felt less hard-won and inevitable – perhaps it was just a little too easy for this orchestra.
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