Great display of physical energy



Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall / Last Friday

Although it was founded over five years ago and has already toured the United States and China, the Hong Kong String Orchestra’s members made their first official visit to Singapore only last week.

Their visit culminated in a concert given by five of their string players – violinists Samuel Au and Yao Jue (who is also the orchestra’s artistic director), violists Benjamin Wong and Caleb Wong, and cellist Pun Chak-Yin.

They brought a souvenir of Hong Kong with them in the form of Pong Law’s arrangement of the theme music from the popular longrunning RTHK TV series, Below The Lion Rock.

At one stage, the theme song had become so hugely popular that some were describing it as Hong Kong’s unofficial anthem. It is a sweet, inconsequential piece and this arrangement neither added to nor took away anything from the original.

However, it hardly stretched the players and certainly not in stamina as it lasted only a couple of minutes.

The players were able to show off a little bit more in six of Zhou Long’s arrangements of Chinese Folk Songs.

There were lots of good string effects here and, with the communal shouts from the non-playing members of the orchestra sitting in the audience, it was all a lot of fun.

But the rather acidic and thin tone the players produced created something of a barrier which prevented the essential charm of these very fine arrangements from coming across in this performance.

For the Mendelssohn Octet, the Hong Kong musicians were supplemented by two Singapore-based string players – violinist Oleksandr Korniev and cellist Qin Li Wei – as well as Chinese violinist He Shucong, familiar to many in the audience from his performances at previous Singapore Violin Competitions.

Unfortunately, the extra players did nothing to enhance the charmless sound of the string ensemble or bring any real sense of musical order to the proceedings.

Despite a lot of obvious enthusiasm, discretion triumphed when the performance stopped after the first movement – one felt that this great work was never going to survive its full course unscathed.

Returning after the interval with six players, the very limited dynamic range which had been noticeable in the first half disappeared altogether.

Through all four movements of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir De Florence, the total absence of any colour only emphasised a pervasive sense that this performance was holding itself together only by the skin of its teeth.

But what it lacked in detail, clarity, expressiveness and cohesion, it more than made up for in the obvious physical energy expended by the players. It was not a great musical treat, but it was a triumph of enthusiasm over discretion.

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