Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra with Zubin Mehta in Review - 11 Nov 2014

Zubin Mehta, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
11 November 2014
The MasterCard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Vivaldi’s Concerto in B minor for Four Violins
Mozart’s Symphony No. 36 (Linz)
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5

A Review by Hawk Liu

This was my first live encounter with Zubin Mehta, after years of listening to his wonderful interpretations of so many works on record, my favourite being the Turandot with Sutherland, Pavarotti, Caballe and Ghiaurov. I came to the concert with anticipation and I wasn’t disappointed with his leadership of the orchestra. The man himself was looking physically tired. He looked as if he could only stroll onto the stage and he even tripped on the podium in the second half. It was surreal. Everyone was amused. But once the man started conducting the energetic passages, he was like a man less than half his age!

And it was a fine orchestra indeed. Articulation was fast and deadly accurate especially in the third movement of Tchaikovsky. Masterly solos were heard in both the Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi. The Tchaikovsky provided a very good showcase of the orchestra’s abilities – great lyric skills, good solo players (difficult, exposed horn solo well sustained), virtuosity, and the ever present performance energy that was never diminished whether it be a quiet movement or otherwise. The Mozart was the one that I didn’t know, and it was interesting to find it being quite similar in structure and character to his Symphony no. 40, though I thought the latter is definitely a superior work by far. The work presented tonight was taken very well, not a wrong footing. The Vivaldi was exciting with 4 soloists showing their chops. There was a very interesting scalic embellishment used consistently throughout that I had not heard before too. After the standing ovation at the end, we were rewarded with the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana. It was a wonderful treat to hear the orchestra’s ability to ‘sing’ the melody so well with all the natural rises and falls in the phrasing. I felt blessed.

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Alright, the bad news! The orchestra was miked – about every instrument on stage at that! It’s a sound engineer’s nightmare and not a mild one. The Vivaldi turned out okay but Mozart and especially Tchaikovsky was not managed well. As every instrument was miked, every one sounded like they were in the foreground! It was difficult to reconcile with the brass being the furthest from the audience and sounding so forward. The second movement of Tchaikovsky sounded like a woodwind concerto. The orchestra appeared mezza forte and above all the time and the loud passages has not more dynamic range to travel. So – the whole soundscape was flat. One wonders what an unamplified orchestral performance at the Mastercard Theatre would sound like, or it there's a better solution to make up for its acoustically disadvantageous interior. Meanwhile a great time was had by all; thank you Maestro for an incredible night of music making!

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