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Hong Kong Philharmonic: Beethoven and Dvořák – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Jaap van Zweden

Reviewer: Sam Chipman

The Hong Kong Philharmonic have not visited the UK in over 10 years, but return after celebrating their 40th Anniversary as a professional orchestra. An orchestra on the up they have been referred to as ‘the Berlin Philharmonic of Asia’. Quite an appraisal, as under the sharp direction of Jaap van Zweden they play Dvořák’s much loved From the New World Symphony and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

The orchestra has a tradition of presenting the work of Hong Kong composers. Quintessence, written by the orchestra’s resident composer, Fung Lam opens proceedings. Its oriental influences can be heard in the 10 minute piece, and it has an eerie air of mystery to it. Scored for a sizeable orchestra and almost Ravel like in sections, the piece has a fluidity to it, and the strings play with a great sense of ambiance and togetherness.

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was not well received when it premiered in 1806, and he did not write for solo violin again. Surprising, as this is an excellently crafted concerto: but of course that is what one comes to expect of the great master. Award winning violinist, Ning Feng plays the Concerto beautifully. He was the first in the Royal Academy of Music’s history to score 100% in his final recital: and his technique is evident in his playing. He has a crisp tone and plays with such clarity and precision. Seemingly effortlessly his fingers move like a breeze along the fret-board. However the performance lacks some drama. Yes, all the notes were present and correct and the playing is superbly clinical, but there was little nuance or significant interpretational qualities to the work, it all seemed a little too set and rigid, pleasant as it may have been. The Hong Kong Philharmonic play delicately throughout, but fail to find some of the light and shade that is to be found in Beethoven’s work – the feeling has to be found in Beethoven, and this rendition falls short.

From the New World’ 9th Symphony was composed by Antonín Dvořák in 1893 while he was the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America from 1892 to 1895. So popular is the work that the theme from the Largo was adapted into the song “Goin’ Home” by Dvořák’s pupil William Arms Fisher: the same theme also featured in the 1970s Hovis bread advert. The great Leonard Bernstein himself encouraged Dutch born Jaap van Zweden to conduct, and he does so with such vigour. He tactfully directs his orchestra as they play a rousing rendition of the famous symphony. Where the concerto lacks in drama, this piece does not. It is a very brash and dark interpretation of the famous symphony played with great attack. The woodwind section are excellent throughout the Largo, with the Cor Anglais solo really adding to the dark undertone of the playing. When the strings swell it is almost euphoric, so delightful is the tone and harmony, particularly at the opening of the Adagio. The Allegro con fuoco sees the return of the memorable themes to end the evening with a flourish. Rousing work from the Hong Kong Philharmonic and Jaap van Zweden.

Breath-taking in parts, with a slight stumble in others. The Dvořák is played magnificently, but the Beethoven a little lacking – but the tuneful 9th Symphony will leave you feeling energised as you exit the auditorium.

Reviewed on 3rd March 2015 | Photo: Cheung Chi-Wai

Conductor: Jaap van Zweden Reviewer: Sam Chipman The Hong Kong Philharmonic have not visited the UK in over 10 years, but return after celebrating their 40th Anniversary as a professional orchestra. An orchestra on the up they have been referred to as ‘the Berlin Philharmonic of Asia’. Quite an appraisal, as under the sharp direction of Jaap van Zweden they play Dvořák’s much loved From the New World Symphony and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. The orchestra has a tradition of presenting the work of Hong Kong composers. Quintessence, written by the orchestra's resident composer, Fung Lam opens proceedings. Its oriental influences…

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