Spano in Singapore – Earthbound Strauss and Celestial Holst

20/05/2015

SingaporeSingapore  Strauss, Holst: Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Robert Spano (conductor), Esplanade Concert Hall, Singapore 08.05.2014 (RP)

Strauss:  Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30
Holst: The Planets, Op. 32

 

The low C that opens Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra took the audience by surprise. It was a primeval sound dominated by the rumblings coming from the organ above. It was a good beginning, but the dawn motif which immediately follows was marred by tentative playing from the trumpets. Robert Spano mustered a thunderous crescendo from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra to bring the opening section to its climax, but the opening bars were indicative of what was to come. There were moments of brilliant sound and thundering fortes, but this was a reading of the Strauss tone poem that never quite gelled.

Two factors were at play. First, the augmented woodwind and brass sections were missing a couple of their principal players. Their absence was apparent both in terms of sound and precision. The other was Spano himself. Much of the time he was just keeping time with his baton, rather than shaping a performance. Those ascending lines that are so important in Strauss’ orchestral music were earthbound. Some were cut off abruptly, in fact stillborn. The SSO strings however, got it right. At their best in the penultimate section, a joyous waltz, they were at ease throughout with Strauss’ stylistic demands. This was due in no small degree to the leadership of Concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich, whose solos were the epitome of elegance.

Post-intermission, the opening bars of The Planets revealed a completely different Spano and the orchestra responded in kind. He was animated, totally engaged and attentive to detail, leading a nuanced, exciting performance of this audience favorite. The opening movement, “Mars, The Bringer of War,” was marked by driving intensity. Yuzefovich’s solos were again a highlight, matched by those of Han Chang Chou, the SSO’s Principal Horn, in “Venus, The Bringer of Peace.” Brass, woodwinds and percussion did yeomen’s work throughout, but once again it was the strings that shone. In “Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity,” the melody known as the English patriotic hymn, “I vow to thee, my Country,” soared – spacious, full and rich – a string sound that stirred the soul.

This was not a flawless performance however. Coming after the drama and excitement of the first four movements, “Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age” is a contrast both in mood and orchestration. It was the only section in which the performance faltered, at times lacking focus and clarity. And where was the woman’s chorus that Holst called for and was mentioned in the program notes? The organ was an adequate substitute, but with the number of talented singers in Singapore, a woman’s chorus could have easily been assembled. The Esplanade Concert Hall offers many opportunities for sonic special effects with its multiple levels and behind stage spaces. It was an opportunity missed to exploit the hall’s fine acoustics, let alone to honor the composer’s wishes.

Spano was generous in acknowledging the orchestra members, reluctant to take a solo bow. After the third or fourth return to the stage, he walked through the orchestra shaking hands and embracing the principal players. Overall it was one of the rare uneven nights for the SSO this season, but that beautiful string playing is still lingering in my ear.

Rick Perdian

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Beethoven 250 at London’s Barbican __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and more in Buenos Aires during 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Beethoven 250 at London’s Southbank Centre __________________________________
  • NEW! Snape Maltings – January to April 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Saffron Hall in February – August 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2020 – Gluck’s Paris and Helen __________________________________
  • NEW! Surrey’s Grange Park Opera in 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Leeds Lieder Concert Series 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Usher Hall 2019-2020 Orchestral Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Opera in 2019-2020 and New Artistic Director __________________________________
  • UPDATED! ENB in 2019-2020 and Opening of their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Free Review Summary Newsletter

    Search S&H

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW AND UPDATED! BEST OF 2019 FROM SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS __________________________________
  • NEW! PIANIST ZLATA CHOCHIEVA IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR TOM HAMMOND IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Ballet Icons Gala 2020 at the London Coliseum on 26 January __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet’s 70th Anniversary Gala Performances – 17 & 18 January 2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR HERVÉ NIQUET INTERVIEWED ABOUT GRÉTRY’S RICHARD, COEUR DE LION __________________________________
  • PIANIST JAMES LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • SOPRANO ANGELA GHEORGHIU IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • NOW REVIEWED! MATTHEW BOURNE’S ROMEO AND JULIET IN CINEMAS FROM 22 OCTOBER __________________________________
  • REVIEWED! Ron Howard’s Pavarotti in Cinemas 13 July (Preview) and Nationwide (15 July) __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month