The first relates to Ning Feng's Beethoven Violin Concerto in D, O. 61 in Allegro ma non troppo, Larghetto and Rondo (Allegro) under the baton of Jaap van Zweden. This piece had a special meaning for me. When I was young I was part of our school harmonica band which played a harmonica version of its second movement with Wong Jim, who later went on to be one of Hong Kong best lyricists, as our soloist and we won a second prize at the school music festival for its performance. I had listened to it I don't know how many times. Yet, no matter how many times I heard it, I never cease to be moved by its beauty. Neng Fung is an excellent violinist, technically perfect. And he played on a Strad whose sound is as bright and silky as it could be. Yet somehow I found something lacking, a little something. It's difficult to describe. It's not that he did not play with feeling. It's not that he did not play with variation in the violin's tonalities or that he played at a mechanical pace. It's not that he failed to play the fortissimos and pianissimos at the wrong volume level. Could it be that he paid a little too much attention to the smoothness and the continuity of the sound and failed to stay just a wee bit longer at certain notes before moving on to the next string of notes or that he failed to press his bow a little harder at the G strings and the D string so that the full emotional impact of the violin's sound would have the kind of time the relevant notes need to have their full effect? I was thinking if he could have played the violin the way Gidon Kremer or David Oistrach played it. At places I felt that he played a little louder than was necessary. Was that because the HKPO was too loud in their accompaniment and he had to play louder to maintain the proper balance between his solo sound and that of the orchestra. I really do not know. This feeling was particularly strong at the first movement. His cadenza when the orchestra was not playing was by contrast much better. But somehow I just came away feeling that it would have been perfect had he played a little differently from the way he actually did.
The next piece was another favourite: Shastakovich No. 5 in D minor. op 47 in Moderato, Allegretto, Largo, Allegro non troppo, a piece first played in Leningrad in November 1937 after he had been criticized for being too bourgeois in the sentiments he portrayed in his fourth. Whether such criticism was just or not, we had in his No. 5 a piece of music full of strife and struggle indicated by sound of the piano and basses and some of the strings and at times even irony in the way he accelerated pace of the music as if he wanted to imitate the rather impatiently quick march of the soldiers of the Soviet soldiers towards the goal of a Socialist heaven. Yet there are no lack of pathos in the Largo. I agree with remark reproduced in the Programme Notes in regard to the Finale "The rejoicing is forced, created under threat...as if someone were beating you with a stick saying, "Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing". Whether that is truly so is anybody's guess. For me, Van Zweden had done a wonderful job. He brought out the variety of emotions and moods and its violent clashes: the incredible desolate sadness and grim determination of the first movement and the swift changes from a mood of tenderness into that fear and despair and confusion upon the coming of relentless march of a barbaric fate and stubborn return to a mood of quiet calmness; the cheerfulness of second; the quiet contemplativeness, the heavenly expansiveness and then the succession of loneliness, then reluctant movement towards impossible ideals and the reversion to an almost Mahler like quiet death in the third movement and then the sudden switch to the forced mood of happiness and reluctant joy, the stealthy return to a private mood, the sadness of being dragged again to participate in the ostensible public joy in the final movement. It was a magnificent performance. And surprise, surprise, I got my first encore from van Zweden. That probably showed how happy he was with his own performance and the ecstatic response he got, something which I think he fully deserves.