Singapore Haydn, Brahms : Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Claus Peter Flor (conductor), Victoria Concert Hall , Singapore , 15.05.2015 (RP)Haydn: Symphony No. 101 in D major, ‘The Clock’
Brahms: Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73
High spirits reigned in this concert by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra with Claus Peter Flor conducting. It was a very successful pairing of two works that found instant popularity, which has never waned. Brahms’ Second Symphony evokes Haydn, a composer that he admired, not in hearkening back to the classical era but in its wit and exuberance. Haydn retained these qualities into his old age, as demonstrated in his London Symphonies, of which ‘The Clock’ is one of twelve, composed when he was in his sixties. Brahms could muster these traits also, but they were not so evident in his First Symphony, composed under the spell of Beethoven’s Ninth when he was decades younger. His friends and the pubic were delighted by the change of mood in his Second Symphony.
Flor employed an unorthodox arrangement of the orchestra on the Victoria Concert Hall stage. The basses were placed stage right behind the first violins and the trumpets and tympani were opposite them, somewhat tucked back and placed at an angle. This served to wrap the violins, violas and cellos in an arc of rich sonorities, and provided focus and balance to the ensemble as well. The VCH has lively acoustics, and Flor mastered them.
Conducting without a baton and using his whole body, Flor teased carefully sculpted phrases and varied dynamic shadings from the orchestra. This Haydn symphony begins in a somber mien, but the ensuing presto of the first movement quickly dispels the darkness. The clock ticked precisely in the second movement. Flor made the most of Haydn’s musical humor, exploiting a wide range of colors, particularly in the woodwinds and horns. The trumpets and tympani feature prominently in the Minuet which follows, but Flor kept the high spirits in check, maintaining its gentle, bucolic mood. The orchestra acquitted itself with honors in the Finale, especially the fine playing of the principal strings in their solo and ensemble passages. This lent an almost chamber-music like texture to the final movement, before the double fugue and brilliant ending.
The Brahms was noteworthy for the spaciousness and depth of the sound. Flor shaped phrases that just bloomed. Solo contributions were at the highest level: Concertmaster, Igor Yuzefovich, Associate Principal Flute Evgueni Brokmiller and Principal Oboe Rachel Walker all played with style and élan, but the standout was Han Chang Chou, Principal Horn, whose vibrant tone graced both works. The joyous and brilliant Allegro con spirito that ends the symphony employs a solo string quartet, and it was a star turn. They played as virtuosos and well deserved the solo bow that Flor afforded them after the final notes sounded.
I have been in Pörtschach on the Wörthersee in the far south of Austria on a fine summer day. The blue lake reflects the clouds in the skies above and the Karawanken Mountains loom to the south. It is not hard to fathom how Brahms found inspiration there, and his Second Symphony was the happy result. Flor and the SSO transported us there on a sultry Singapore evening.