Concert Review: HKPO – Elim Chan
April 1, 2017
HKPO – Stephen Hough – Elim Chan
Smetana – Beethoven – Rachmaninov
When I tried to buy a ticket for this concert some time ago, I was surprised to find it sold out on both nights. Fortunately, a friend procured me one ticket, second row, center balcony. I guess many people are curious to hear this LSO conducting competition winner, who has served as assistant for the LSO and now is chief conductor of Swedish NoorlandOperan.
With Smetana’s Ma Vlast, Elim Chan immediately showed her youthful energy and solid command. Being dimunitive, her highly raised arms conducted in large arcs. The river flowed a little faster than usual.
Elim Chan’s conducting in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto was absolutely stunning. Impeccably timed and full of dynamic fervor, it was as it should be, and much superior to the work of most other conductors I have heard in this work. However, there was an obvious dichotomy – soloist Stephen Hough’s playing, though tidy and shaped, in contrast lacked dynamic nuance and sparkle, of utmost importance in this piece. Hence, although there was no question of syncing, subjectively the strange perception was a slow piano part and a fast orchestra accompaniment. Some of my friends felt the same. Hough’s strange choice of Claire de Lune as an encore did him no favor, as it was played with virtually no atmosphere.
Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances received a well shaped performance. The waltz in the Andante was sensitively shaped yet well sprung – just marvelous. Overall, however, the performance lacked a certain Russian fervor, perhaps wistfulness. This is often true of the matter-of-fact HKPO, who do not do well in this repertoire (unless under a Russian conductor).
The Rachmaninov again illustrated the long time weakness of the HKPO – a weak wind section which played all the notes but had no wholeness. This hampered in particular the first movement. One heard the strings and the brass well, but struggled with the winds.
The center balcony is beloved by audiophiles, but imho the sound there is on the dry and sterile side. Big brass climaxes also sounded overloaded and coarse. I prefer more to the sides.
HKPO should invite Elim Chan back every year!