Triumphant evenings for RBSO concertmaster

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Triumphant evenings for RBSO concertmaster

Social-distancing rules aside, near-perfect performances in two shows last month left audiences cheering bravo

published : 3 Nov 2020 at 04:00

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‘Germanic Brilliance And Glory’. Photos courtesy of RBSO

In such restrictive times worldwide in regards to live music by professional musicians and the enjoyment of it by an appreciative paying audience, it is worth repeating what an immense relief and privilege it is to have live concerts here again in Bangkok.

Social-distancing aside, things have returned to a genuine semblance of normality — for the time being at least. Conducted by music director Michel Tilkin, “Germanic Brilliance And Glory” were the latest concerts given by the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra on Oct 9 at the Thailand Cultural Centre, where the delicacy of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto In E Minor was contrasted effectively with the ultra-seriousness of Brahms’ Symphony No.1 In C Minor.

RBSO concertmaster Bing Han was the featured soloist for Mendelssohn’s work and gave an extremely clean and interpretatively straightforward rendition of this best-known violin concerto. The solo part requires a sensitive, light touch combined with a robust technique from the outset and Han immediately demonstrated her soloist credentials with secure shifting and precise intonation. That soaring opening melody requires the same kind of clean playing and perfect intonation as do the melodic lines in a Mozart concerto. The well-known diminished 7th octave ascents which conclude the first episode represent something of an important first arrival point. These were dispatched confidently and accurately by Han.

Double stops in thirds and other virtuoso techniques continued to come across most convincingly in the opening Allegro Molto Appassionato, leading to the brilliant composed cadenza which was played to perfection. One of the most dazzling moments in the violin repertoire occurs at its conclusion where arpeggiated ricochet spiccato in the solo part ushers in the return of the orchestra. Han’s evenly balanced bariolage technique projected the requisite effervescence beautifully with the RBSO continuing to give unobtrusive support, as indeed it did for the whole concerto.

Bassoonist Thanawat Ngosawang linked into the sublime Andante movement with a warm, sonorous tone and soothing hushed strings which set the scene for a particularly lovely cantilena melody from Han. Highly expressive without over-emphasising vibrato and portamenti, this was transfixing playing, which gave way to the unsettling central minor section. Here again, the intricate double-stopping technical hurdles were managed with excellent articulation by the soloist. The finale continued in a similar vein with commendable rhythmic ensemble between the flutes/clarinets and soloists at the outset of the energetic Allegro Molto Vivace.

Overall, it was a most convincing performance of this universally known concerto and for an encore, Han reappeared for an engaging playing of Bach’s openingAdagio from Sonata No.1 In G minor BWV 1001.

Violin soloist Bing Han. RBSO

The first of three concerts which Tilkin conducted in October, he returned after intermission for a glorious performance of Brahms’ Symphony No.1 In C Minor. Brahms famously invested two decades of compositional deliberation into his debut symphony, a performance which concentrates that drawn-out gestation into a mere forty-five minutes of unprecedented orchestral density. The reason was that even as a young composer, he had been identified by the musical intelligentsia as natural heir to Beethoven, whose nine symphonies amount to no less than a “bible” of Western classical music. Consequently, Brahms’ unavoidable dilemma was, therefore, how on earth to follow that?

The challenge then, of course, was passed onto every conductor as they take this highly complex score with them to a podium stand, feeling an equal measure of responsibility vis-à-vis the presentation of a thorough, comprehensive interpretation. The immensity of vision was revealed by Tilkin in the very first bar as the timpani pounded a fateful pulse, with searing first violins describing a chromatically tinged ascent just as the lower range instruments of the RBSO pulled in the opposite direction towards the emotional depths of despair.

The explosive, elemental opening gives way to a poised piano dynamic and such abrupt alternations of character and atmosphere define the nature of this whole opus. There is a constant flux between Herculean outbursts on the one hand and a niente whisperings on the other. Tilkin managed all of the transitions well, keeping an extremely tight ensemble through endless tempo fluctuations.

The Andante Sostenuto is famous for its prominent violin solo and here concertmaster Chot Buasuwan phrased this lovingly, also taking care of the intonation. This repeated the earlier oboe appearance of the theme, also played very nicely by Nuttha Kuankajorn. Meanwhile, the Un Poco Allegretto E Grazioso movement featured the gorgeous tone of principal clarinetist Yos Vaneesorn. The finale, Adagio – Allegro Non-troppo, Ma Con Brio, was highly explosive and delicate in its phrasing and perhaps will be best remembered for the 1st violin section’s deft handling of the challenging second subject theme, which ultimately paves the way for surely the most triumphant of all symphonic codas. The TCC audience duly responded with multiple shouts of “Bravo!”.