Saturday was cold. But my heart was warm. It was warmed by music from four different composers: Maurice Ravel, César Franck, Richard Strauss and Witold Lutoslawksi performed by the HKPO at the Cultural Centre under the baton of Taiwan-born, American and Vienna trained Shao Chia Lu.
Two of the first composers were from France although Ravel came from Pays Basque in the northern part of Spain. The first piece La Valse was supposed to be done for the ballet but as Ravel said, it was not ballet itself but a " a portrait of a ballet". It was first done in a two piano version in 1920 and only later was it adapted for the orchestra by the talented Ravel with his wonderful ear for orchestral colors, as "a choreagraphic poem of the orchestra", with typical Ravel half tones and constant repetition and lively but unusual harmonies. It opens almost inaudibly with the orchestra coming in slowly and then there are constant alteration between soft, silky and lyrical and sudden robust sounds.
The second, the Symphonic Variations, was done much earlier by Belgian born César Franck and fully exploits the charm of the piano, done for us on this occasion by Marc-André Hamelin. It opens very strongly and is then followed by a very beautiful piano melody and the forceful orchestra sound is constantly contrasted with the soft piano throughout the piece until the magnificent finale.
The third, Burlesque by Richard Strauss is another work in the late 19th century, a very spirited piece,opening with the tipani, later joined by the orchestra which continues the tensioned interplay of piano and orchestra and which gives full scope to the play of both.
The final piece is a really bombastic piece, done with great skill by Lutoslawski in the 1950s' by introducing some very contemporary sound under the guise of using folk melodies to evade Communist party control in Poland. Again it is full of tension and its theme is repeated by various sections of the orchestra. It's a piece which has certainly delighted my hi fi friends, who unanimously said that it would have been worth their while to come to the concert if only just to listen to this piece. Although I never heard this piece before, I will certainly try to get a disc and listen to it again.
Shao is a really versatile conductor and Hamelin played with great mastery and sensitivity. What a wonderful way to end a Saturday. I left the concert hall full of new sounds in my head and the hope of listening to them again.