Saturday, 14 December 2013

Rousing Concert

Showstopper Ning Feng mastering the violin
Just came back from a stimulating concert at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall with the Hong Kong Philharmonic led by music director Jaap van Zweden.

And who did we (YTSL and I) come to see? The brilliant virtuoso Ning Feng. He's technically flawless and yet flies under the radar when it comes to charisma. Unlike Lang Lang who likes to throw in showmanship, Ning refuses to compete with more drama and instead it's all pure music.

The program started with Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D, op. 61. An interesting fact is that this is Beethoven's only completed violin concerto in 1806, even though he started one a few years earlier in 1790.

While he was writing the concerto, Haydn passed through Bonn and recognized Beethoven's talents, which may have made him so exited that he forgot to finish writing the first concerto.

Nevertheless, we were treated to a fantastic performance thanks to Feng, who walked on stage in his signature black long shirt, this time with a hint of fuchsia on the cuff and edge of the shirt, black slacks and shoes. The Chengdu native didn't have his hair coiffed like Lang Lang or Li Yundi -- Feng is here to entertain us with his music.

His finger work is amazing, making it look so easy. The concert hall fell completely silent when he performed his solo passages, the audience watching him master the violin. He knows exactly how to tease the beautiful sounds out of the instrument without much force or pressure -- it looks so delicate and easy -- after decades of practice.

We enjoyed the concerto so much that it took a while for Feng to finally give us an encore and it was an intricate, energetic piece that again left us in awe.

Hong Kong Philharmonic music director Jaap van Zweden
After a short break van Zweden and the orchestra presented a boisterous interpretation of Shostakovich's Symphoy no. 5 in D minor, op. 47. The orchestra included a piano, celesta or small keyboard, two harps, an extensive percussion section, double bass and doubling contrabassoon.

Shostakovich wrote the piece after his Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District had been criticized in Soviet state media, a hint that the composer was not following Stalin's guidelines of what artists should be doing.

So the composer gave his own retort in this apparently encoded political criticism that some listeners could pick out. The first movement is a classical sonata form that seems orderly, and then transfers into the second movement that is playful but then the slower passages evoke emotion.

The last movement climaxes into victorious sound that fills the entire hall. It's impressive and bold, perhaps Shostakovich's way of feeling triumphant.

Even before the encore, Feng's fans were already lined up outside the concert hall to have items autographed by the violinist. He seems to enjoy coming to Hong Kong, playing at least once a year here -- and we love him too.

Jaap's Shostakovich 5
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall
December 13-14, 8pm

Beethoven Violin Concerto in D, op. 61
Shostakovich Symphony no. 5 in D minor, op. 47

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