Hong Kong Philharmonic under Jaap van Zweden brilliant in Beethoven Symphony No

REVIEW | Hong Kong Philharmonic under Jaap van Zweden brilliant in Beethoven Symphony No 9, finely nuanced in Mozart concerto with pianist Avan Yu

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra is finally reunited with its music director, Jaap van Zweden, and the result, as seen in its season opening concert on September 9, is something special.

A finely nuanced performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.22, alternatively subtle and laden with operatic intrigue, had an ideal soloist in Canadian pianist Avan Yu. And a no-holds-barred Beethoven Symphony No.9 brought forth a sense of joy that was all the more profound because of the struggles Hong Kong has had to endure, including pandemic restrictions that have kept the Dutch conductor away for long periods.

Orchestra and conductor brought a level of finesse to their Mozart sound that has not been seen previously. The violins, so numerous that the stage could barely fit them all, provided buoyancy. Van Zweden coaxed subtle crescendos and diminuendos from the musicians.

Yu’s articulation was crystal clear, the piano part hovering and weaving around the orchestra’s playing to produce a genuine dialogue. Clarinets added lovely touches of lyrical warmth and the bassoonists bubbled along energetically in the opening “Allegro”.

The subtlety and nuance that Yu achieved in not a given. The trap of overthinking the composer’s works led legendary pianist Artur Schnabel to famously remark: “Mozart is too easy for children, but too difficult for professionals!” Well not for Yu. His crisp and playful reading of the cheerful “Allegro” finale was a delight from start to finish, and gave even the sternest of faces good reason to crack a smile. The fabulous flute flurries from Megan Sterling were another.

In his own final expression of joy, Yu’s solo cadenza was such a deft display of technique and a clever potpourri of ideas that the omission of the customary encore from the soloist didn’t go amiss.

Christopher Halls, South China Morning Post
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