My second HKPO concert this season last week is as unforgettable as the first. It was unforgettable because it was one of the shortest programmes ever. only one piece of music for each half of the usual two sessions. We had two guests this time: a pianist and a conductor. The pianist was Melvyn Tan, a young Singaporean who is an expert on the forte piano and pre-Romantic music and has performed worldwide on both that instrument and the modern piano. The conductor was a tall balding young man whose very energetic motions made his conducting bit stiff: Lawrence Renes, a Dutch conductor who assisted our previous musical director Edo de Waart in 1994-1996 at the Dutch Radio Orchestra and is now musical director of the Royal Swedish Opera.
Our first piece that evening was a piano concerto by Mozart in which he wrote in parts for the clarinet, his Piano Concerto Concerto No. 22. This has been described by one music scholar as Mozart's "queenliest" piano concerto and he is right. It does have a certain grandeur about it and is one of the longest piano concertos Mozart wrote. It started out magnificently with strings, followed by wind before the piano enters. The second movement is a bit sad with certain heavy rhythm from the bass but in the third, Mozart came to himself again: quick, lively, humorous, and joyful. I like that movement best. However, I find Tan's performance a little too restrained. I could not find Mozart's soul in his play. I was not alone in thinking so. My concerto companions agreed with me too.
The second piece of the evening was a completely different piece: it was from 20th century Russia, not 18th century Austria. It was Shastakovich's Symphony No. 7 in C major, a symphony completed in December, 1941 in memory of the resistance of the people city of Leningrad (Moscow) during the 900-day siege of the city by the German army during the second World War. It was Shastakovich lengthiest symphony, almost two hours ! In the extremely long first movement of the symphony (nearly half an hour), we can feel the grimness of war and the toll it took on the vast expanses of a Russian winter as German soldiers advanced to the tune of a fateful march and as the Russian soldiers retreated, quietly, sadly but not completely without hope as the same motif was repeated successively by different wind instruments and then the full orchestra and gradually building up in pitch and volume. The second movement in moderato, the shortest was a bit lighter and more lively whilst the slightly longer third in adagio, was supposed to portray the city of Leningrad with its Neva riverbank, its streets and its people in quiet twilight. The final movement in allegro non troppo also began quietly but gradually built up into frenzy with repetitions of many previous motifs of the first movement. Renes led the HKPO to a magnificent finale of this grim piece. A really great performance !