Thursday, December 22, 2011

REVIEW: Frank Peter Zimmermann with HKPO

Hong Kong Cultural Center Concert Hall, Saturday December 17

Lu Jia has withdrawn from the concert and guest conductor Andreas Delfs has agreed to step in at short notice. However, what this meant was that the original Dvorak’s Scherzo Capriccioso and Brahms’ Serenade No.2 was replaced with Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. The bad news was that I prefer the Dvorak. The good news was at least it was Brahms No. 3, while I am not a huge Brahms fan; No. 3 is actually one of the better Brahms symphony for me.

Heroic and at the same time meditative; with the soaring start and the fading end, the Third Symphony is a masterpiece but quite difficult to bring it off. With Andreas Delfs conducting, the first movement started the “motto theme” F, A flat and F (frei aber froh / free but happy) with robust pace and tone, but suffered imbalance in 2nd movement. The 3rd movement was delivered with great care and the result has a beautiful dark gentleness quality to it. The fourth movement was a tad underpowered, though the quiet ending was attractively managed.

On the other hand, Zimmermann playing Beethoven was thoroughly enjoyable. His interpretation challenges the listener to listen but not to understand. It sounded fresh yet everything seems to make sense. The cadenza in the first movement was stunning, but how the orchestra seemed to join and wrap the soloist was awe-inspiring. Andreas Delfs was most wise to know when to take control and when to let go, producing a voluptuous performance with full sound in all the right places, while Zimmermann’s infallible technique was dazzlingly showcased in the final movement… an absolutely remarkable performance!


Zimmermann plays Beethoven
16&17-12-2011 Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3
BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto

Andreas Delfs, conductor
Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin

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Monday, December 19, 2011

REVIEW: Birdhouse Factory by Cirque Mechanics

HKAPA Lyric Theatre, Wednesday December 7

It was a very entertaining performance, but that’s all it was…

Birdhouse Factory is a contemporary circus along the line of Cirque du Soleil. There was no animal involved and the traditional circus acts were given a new twist by injecting them with character-driven concept. In this case, the concept was…ummm… birdhouse factory. The circus drew on the visual cues of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, the machines found in cartoonist Rube Goldberg’s drawings and the industry mural of Diego Rivera. Performers were workers in the factory; and with the use of the different contraptions in a factory setting, they perform their circus act. The concept is very compelling and original but unfortunately, one can’t help but feel that the execution didn’t go far enough.

In comparison to a contemporary circus I saw last year, Lang Toi (My Village) – Dancing with Bamboos (click here to see my review), the Birdhouse Factory was far more entertaining and the concept worked perfectly. It has a fairly clear storyline. In the first half, the story revolved around a factory managed by a strict and pompous boss who also happens to be fabulous juggler (Steven Ragatz) that led to the closing of the factory. The second half saw the re-opening of the factory (this time it makes birdhouses) under the management of a fun-loving boss who happens to be a remarkable clown (Jesse Dryden). Some of the highlights of the show were Alexandra Pivaral’s scary and disturbing contortions, Steven Ragatz’s juggling and the tango acrobat of Nelson Pivaral and Goulia Rozyeva.

Perhaps being very entertaining is good enough.


Birdhouse Factory
by Cirque Mechanics
Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
November 30 to December 11 2011

Creative Team:
Chris Lashua, Creative Director
Aloysia Gavre, Co-Director & Choreographer
Steven Ragatz, Captain of the Funny

Cast includes:
Steven Ragatz, juggling
Michael "Tex"Redinger, trampoline act
Jesse Dryden, clown
West Hatfield, trampoline act
Michael Hill, acrobat
Lindsay Orton-Hines, aerialist
Jan Damm, acrobat
Viktoria Grimmy, hula hoop
Elisabeth Carpenter, aerialist
Nelson Pivaral, tango acrobat
Goulia Rozyeva, tango acrobat
Alexandra Pivaral, contortion
Frederic Lemieux Cormier, German wheel

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

REVIEW: Paul Lewis with HKPO

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday December 3

Over a year ago, Paul Lewis came to Hong Kong to perform the Beethoven Piano Concert No. 5 in E flat (Emperor), Op. 73 with the HKPO (click here to see my review). In my review, I concluded “I came away impressed but not excited. The interpretation was standard and safe.” Interpretation is a very tricky subject. Just recently, I wrote a review on Brooklyn Rider and said “They are not about what the music has to say about the players, but rather what the players have to say about the music.” Interpretation is one of those things that are very subjective in nature and the opinions about them change depending on what were being practiced during that time.

To understand Paul Lewis is to understand that he is about what the music has to say about him; and in Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 23 in A, K488, the music showed an honest and natural musician in Lewis. In retrospect, the interpretation was also standard and safe, yet it worked with great wonders as it sounded organic and as if the music is speaking on its own directly without a conduit. I particularly like the even and faithful tempo employed at times when it can be very tempting to gear-up tempo rubato. Even the orchestra, led by Osmo Vanska, also played along to this crisp steadiness. It is this skillful and judicious control of tempo that I find the performance of the piece most admirable.

The evening’s Mahler Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor was for me a revelation. I remember Herbert von Karajan once said that when listening to Mahler’s Fifth, “you forget that time has passed. A great performance of the Fifth is a transforming experience. The fantastic finale almost forces you to hold your breath.” Well, I understand what he meant because that was how I felt… well, not exactly transforming… but transfix? Yes!

The opening trumpet was striking and that pretty much set off the magic. The strings were translucent and details were beautifully executed. The frequently performed Adagietto was a bit too extrovert for my taste, but I am just nitpicking. The reality was that I could easily say that it was one of the best Mahler performance I have ever heard from HKPO!


Vänskä Returns – Mahler 5
2&3-12-2011 Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

MOZART: Piano Concerto No.23 in A, K488
MAHLER: Symphony No.5

Osmo Vänskä, conductor
Paul Lewis, piano

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

REVIEW: Simone Lamsma with HKPO

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday November 26

It’s a week since I saw Jaap van Zweden conducted the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and I still can’t get myself to write something about it. Van Zweden (in pole position for the role of Edi de Waart) conducted two concerts so far and I recommended both in a feature for Time-Out (click here). I only saw the second concert, wherein he conducted Britten’s Violin Concert with Simone Lamsma playing the violin and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5. And now that I saw another HKPO two days ago and will be seeing another performance this Wednesday, I feel the need to push myself to write this or else I will end up having a bottleneck.

I have a very mixed feeling about the performance. The combination of Britten and Prokofiev was not exactly interesting. Lamsma was not bad, but was not exciting also… in fact, there a bit of pitch problem. As for van Zweden, he was very interesting to watch but bordering distracting.

Don’t get me wrong, Lamsma’s playing was in most times technically solid. Her sense of spontaneity, use of rubato was far from sounding pretentious. In fact, it seems to show a fascinating perspective of the music. However, it failed to show enough insight to create cohesion and intensity. Van Zweden and the HKPO matched her in this lack of intensity. Unfortunately, by the time the Passacaglia was impressively played, my being was too numbed to turn around. Mentally, I know that it was beautifully done, but emotionally, I can’t be affected.

Van Zweden gave a positively forceful rendition of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5… well, maybe a bit too forceful that it wrung out any trace of humor. The sarcastic edginess of the scherzo and finale was palpable, full of underlying menace and bite. It was a performance of no simple glorification of mankind, but of people who have seen the worst of people and came out alive.


Jaap van Zweden - The Essential II
25&26-11-2011 Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

BRITTEN: Violin Concerto
PROKOFIEV: Symphony No.5

Jaap van Zweden, conductor
Simone Lamsma, violin

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