From London with Prestige

Jiří Bělohlávek, conductor,Nikolai Lugansky, piano    30 October 2006 (Mon) Esplanade Concert Hall

STRAUSS Don Juan
MOZART Piano Concerto in C, K467
JANACEK Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No 6 in B minor, Op 54

A fortnight ago, I went with two friends for the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s debut in Esplanade, meeting another two friends there. Attracted by the prestige and fame of BBC as many of the others, I luckily got a much discounted ticket at the last minute, with a little help from my friend.

Founded almost a century ago, BBC SO has become one of the leading orchestras in UK bearing its name around the world. I was quite pleasantly surprised and expected to hear some authentic English works when three months ago I knew they are visiting Singapore. However, this turned out to be a big disappointment when I saw the repertoire, which was a more compromised program with Mozart and Shostakovich as if a birthday man party.

As the melodramatic tone of Don Juan started off the concert, the incisive string and brilliant brass were implying the BBC SO’s world class skills. Though few mistakes before the tune-in, this piece was still sound enough to capture the audience.

Nikolai Lugansky’s interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 highlighted the concert with his musical simplicity, though a little bit lack of accompanying and contrast from the string. Three rounds of applauses didn’t bring him back with an encore on the Steinway.

The second half commenced with a contemporary piece from the conductor’s motherland Czech. This time BBC SO was fully energized with its rich tradition in interpreting the modern works. Under Belohlavek’s baton, the orchestra brought the audience into the mother nature with lovely animals and forests with its dramatic and skillful presenting.

The last piece on the programme was Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6. I can’t recall much from the unemotional performance. Or in another words, it’s not impressive. And I was told SSO done a better one in the same hall two weeks before.

When the maestro back on stage with the first encore, I realized that they just came for pleasing the Asian audience instead of bring some English music tradition. I am sure everyone had heard this piece even if he never been to a classical concert hall or owned a classical album. BBC SO did do a good job when playing this famous English piece. Audience roared and applauded before they hit the last note. This also brought back the conductor for another encore with Dvorak’s dance piece which scattered my bubble dream of hearing Elgar’s Nimrod from Enigma Variations.

After the performance, I asked the maestro Belohlavek in the autography session:”BBC SO has just found its new steersman, where you maestro will lead it in the future? More baroque or classical or romantic or contemporary?”. The music director and conductor immediately told me: “Classical and romantic. Coz the contemporary will always be there itself”. So let’s just see where the BBC flagship is going to.

On the way back home, my friends asked me to give a mark for the concert. As generous always, I gave an 8 out of 10 for the performance. I was satisfied with their skills, consonance and the twenty dollars I paid for. Another friend of mine phoned me she would give the performance 6 marks. At first I thought she was too stingy for flattering, soon I realized she paid at least fifty for the concert. While, most probably I would give 7 if I paid fifty; or 6 if I got the first class with three hundreds dollars. Just as one of my friend’s review title “BBC’s musical buffet leaves one hungering for more”.

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