The first piece was Borodin's (1833-1887) Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor of what would count today as Ukraine, where a political struggle is now afoot between complete independence from Russia or to rejoin her. The piece was a popular piece forming part of an opera started by Borodin but completed only by Rimsky-Korsakov and his student Glazunov. The piece was about Prince Igor's fight against the invading Polovtsi under their leader Khan Konchat. Though initially defeated, the Prince Igor was given honour by his enemy who ordered his slaves to perform a number of dances for his entertainment. The dances vary in style but has very strong rhythms to them. It started with some very atmospheric Middle eastern motifs but soon developing a very robust themes until its rousing climax with quite a number variations. Fischer has a very unusual arrangement of the positioning of the strings: the cellos and double basses are placed in centre left instead of the rear right of the stage. Thus the music has a very strong emphasis on the bass notes which to me gave the sound a certain heaviness which dragged down the lighter passages requiring delicacy of the high strings so that overall the sound became a bit too thick and rather too loud.
The next piece of the evening was Glazunov's (1865-1936) very tender Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 82, a piece seldom played in Hong Kong. We had a young violin soloist from France Renaud Capuçon who specializes in chamber music. He has a very special way of playing, sometimes lingering very very long over the notes so that his phrases seems rather more continuous than clean cut, adding to the heaviness of the notes, something which is not improved by the unique orchestral positioning of the lower strings at centre left of the stage. Without having competition from the orchestra, Capuçon's little encore piece sounded much clearer and crisper.
The second half of the concert was a completely different matter. We had Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A minor Op 92. Under the decisive baton of Ivan Fischer, it was an altogether exciting sound: positive, confident, exuberant, something which fitted very well indeed with the conducting style of Fischer. Because of the stronger sound from the other strings and wind sections, the orchestral arrangement had very much less effect on the relatively softer passages. The result was the very well deserved enthusiastic aplauses from the audience. Fischer was obviously pleased with the reception. He was not stingy on his encores: rhythmic and very festive Slavic pieces . I certainly enjoyed the second half the concert much better than the first.