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YOUTHFUL BRILLIANCE AND MAJESTIC MENDELSSOHN

Review of May 2022 Concert

The first item was Otto Respighi’s Trittico Botticelliano, (The Botticello Triptych) – three little musical jewels depicting three magnificent paintings by Botticelli which are in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.   The paintings are Primavera (Spring), the Adoration of the Magi and The Birth of Venus. The playing in Spring was crisp and lively with lovely ensemble playing – gentle breezes from the woodwinds and fluttering leaves from tremolo strings.  The blending of familiar carol tunes and modal harmonies gave the Adoration of the Magi a hint of medieval majesty and Venus rose in her watery scallop shell with serenity and grace.

The soloist in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor op.21, Shan Liu, although only twelve years old, had the presence of an experienced concert musician, and the pianistic brilliance to match.  His winning grin belied any nerves (he is quoted as saying he doesn’t feel nerves before a performance as he enjoys playing so much), and he had his audience totally enthralled.  He enjoyed obvious rapport with Michael Joel and orchestra.  The concerto was Chopin’s first, although published after his second.  Chopin who was a brilliant pianist himself, wrote the work as a showpiece for his own pianistic talents and it requires impeccable pianism and technique.  It found both in Shan Liu.  He demonstrated clarity of touch, understanding of the passion and emotional intensity.  His playing encompassed variation in tempi and rubati in the first movement, languid and romantic intensity in the second and playful dance-like interplay with the woodwinds in the final Allegro. While playing a mostly accompanying role the orchestra never intruded, but supported the soloist in a most empathetic way.  Shan played with confidence, aplomb, and great sensitivity, and was given a well-deserved standing ovation.  Apparently tireless, he responded with a lengthy Schumann encore.  Bravo, Shan!  A young man of incredible talent.

After this pianistic tour de force the orchestra was able to take centre stage for Mendelssohn’s Symphony No3, The Scottish.  A rather dark brooding introduction led into an energetic dance rhythm with lots of ‘Scottish snaps’ (where a short, accented note is followed by a longer one).  This rhythm was repeated at various points throughout the symphony.  The dramatic broad fortissimo sections followed by quieter pianissimo passages were reminiscent of rolling seas, as heard in his Hebrides Overture.  There was plenty to keep all sections engaged.  The string intonation and phrasing were very fine, and the woodwind and brass playing was impeccable.  While it is a little unfair to identify any section for special praise, the playing from the horns at the end of the fourth movement before the coda was impressive.  Congratulations SMCO and Michael Joel for a rousing start to the 2022 Subscription series.

Review by Rogan Falla