Review: Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7

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HK Phil proves it is back to itself again with a strong performance

If the opening act of the HK Phil’s Beethoven symphony cycle on November 11th was a let-down, then the second act a week later was the comeback that the orchestra sorely needed and ultimately pulled off.

The evening began with the picturesque Symphony No. 6 – Beethoven’s tribute to Mother Nature and his answer to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The HK Phil returned to top form, delivering the kind of velvety sounds that put the orchestra on the world map. Even though the first three movements were a touch too sluggish, the slow tempo was a deliberate move to accentuate the contrast with the violent ‘Thunderstorm’ fourth movement, before calm was restored in the serene ‘Shepherd’s Song’ finale. The HK Phil appeared well-rehearsed, coordinated and in control.

After the intermission came Symphony No.7. The highlight of the evening was unquestionably the allegretto second movement, with melodies so bewitching that during the symphony’s 1813 premiere in Vienna, the audience demanded an immediate encore. The HK Phil did justice to the intricate layering of ostinato phrases as well as the movement’s overall melancholy grace. That clarity and sensitivity carried through much of the presto and allegro movements. More importantly, the musicians themselves appeared to be having a genuinely good time onstage, and their energy was nothing short of infectious.

A strong performance from the entire ensemble notwithstanding, it was principal flutist Megan Sterling who stole the show with her rare combination of poise, precision and showmanship. With talent agents no doubt calling her with attractive offers, Sterling is the biggest flight risk in the HK Phil after music director Jaap van Zweden (who is rumoured to be courted by the New York Philharmonic). Losing either of them would deal a heavy blow to the orchestra.

It was a joy to see the HK Phil play well, and the audience took notice. It gave a standing ovation and not less than four curtain calls. What a difference one week makes.

Author: Jason Y. Ng

Nov 18

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