Refined Beethoven Under the Baton of Hans Graf

SingaporeSingapore Beethoven, Shostakovich: Igor Yuzefovich (violin), Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Hans Graf (conductor), Esplanade Concert Hall Singapore, 07.02.2015 (RP)

Beethoven: Egmont Overture, Op. 84
Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 77
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92

Transparency and scale were the hallmarks of this concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SS0) under the baton of Hans Graf. He achieved moments of exquisite quietude throughout, frequently by putting his fingers to his lips, or crouching and pushing both of his hands to the floor. His efforts were worthwhile: seldom have I heard the SSO play with such delicacy and sensitivity.

 Beethoven’s Egmont Overture is a surefire hit with audiences. Goethe’s play provided perfect fodder for the composer with its theme of defiance in the face of tyranny. Indeed, Beethoven composed it the wake of Napoleon’s siege and subsequent occupation of Vienna in 1809. The French Emperor had long ceased to be a hero in the composer’s eyes. Graf led the SSO in a measured, exciting rendition of the piece. In a performance marked by great subtlety, the final rousing “Symphony of Victory” was truly triumphant.

 Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 demands a soloist with stamina and musicianship rather than virtuosity. There is no rest for the violinist from the grave contemplative Nocturne that opens the work to the powerful Passacaglia at its conclusion. The Russian- born concertmaster of the SSO, Igor Yuzefovich, certainly met the technical demands of the solo part; however it was all rather mechanical. He has a lean, concentrated tone that fit well with Graf’s tight, rather contained view of the work, but something was missing. Both Graf and Yuzefovich needed to turn things up a notch or two. Unfortunately, he broke a string near the end of the finale, and the drama he had created dissipated. It must be noted that none of this seemed to phase the audience, which gave soloist, conductor and orchestra a prolonged ovation.

 Beethoven himself called the Symphony No. 7 “one of the happiest products of my poor talents.” It is a musical celebration, and by its premiere in 1813 Napoleon had been vanquished. Graf and the SSO, as in the opening overture, gave an elegant performance of the symphony marked once again by attention to detail and dynamics. The forte fortissimo in the final movement was perfectly in balance with the softest passages which had come before. The violas and cellos sounded magnificent in the Allegretto. As usual, the horns, trumpets and woodwinds did themselves proud. The audience erupted in applause, which only abated when Graf escorted co-concertmaster Lynette Seah off the stage.

Rick Perdian