We started off the anniversary concert with a piece by that musical prodigy called by an extremely long name: Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847), mercifully abbreviated by the musical world into simply "Mendelssohn" or the slightly longer "Felix Mendelssohn". The piece was his Symphony No. 4 in A, more popularly known as the "Italian Symphony". It got its name from the visit that he made during his educational tour of Europe lasting some 3 years( 1829-1832) including the UK, Switzerland, France and Italy, being the son of a rich banker father and a talented musical mother. Beginning to write music at 11, Mendelssohn already had some 12 symphonies written by the time he reached 15! Italy was a country he simply loved. In this piece of music, we can almost feel the Mediterranean sun, the blue of its seas, the picturesque little towns perched atop the rugged rocks of its coves, the serenity of its northern meadows, the energetic galloping of its military horses and lively dances of its young men and maiden, in short, its joie de vivre. Its Allegro vivace – Andante con moto – Con moto moderato –Saltarello (Presto) were supposed to be continuously performed as if it were one huge movement and as if the orchestra were a chamber orchestra, almost like a symphonic poem. We feel the innocent joy of youth, its lyricism,its romance, its tentative exploration of variety of the world, its unpredictable resoluteness but above all its unbounded energy and excitement.
After the intermission, we had a celebratory piece by George Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) a German who adopted England as his home. It was his Zadok the Priest, first performed at the Westminster Abbey in 1727 at the coronation of George II. The name Zadok the priest was taken from the Bible: "Zadok the Priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon King.And all the people rejoiced, and said: God save the King! Long live the King! God save the King! May the King live for ever. Amen. Alleluja." It's still being sung now at the coronation of each UK royalty. The HKPhil choir, conducted by its tenor gave an impressive performance.
The next piece was another of my favourites. It's Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus. which I heard not so longer ago when the Tallis Scholars visited Hong Kong, without any orchestral accompaniment. It was a completely different experience this time, with many more singers and the much richer sound of the orchestra behind the purely choral voices. It was a most uplifting experience.
The next piece is one seldom heard in Hong Kong. I didn't know it existed until I heard it for the first time that night. It's Beethoven's "Choral Fantasy", Op. 80, a piece which began with the piano and only much much later was joined by the orchestra. Only towards the end did the chorus joined it. The piano was done by the local born Rachel Cheung, a former student of the HKAPA, who then went on to win numerous international awards. It was a most delightful piece with a simple melody which keeps on being repeated. In parts, one could imagine country folks dancing to uncomplicated the rustic rhythm on the village green or the town square but in no time, the sound would be enriched by the fast and complex torrents thundering from the piano and given much more body by the orchestra and the human voices. It's in this piece that we find the theme that Beethoven was later to use in his famous Symphony No. 9. It was a piece composed in great haste and some it extemporized by Beethoven on the spot during one of his extremely fund raising concerts for his own academy in 1794 where he tried to summarize all that he had done earlier in that extremely long concert and it shows by the constant repetition of its main melodic motif.
The crowning piece of the evening's concert was Handel's Messiah, HWV 56: Hallelujah Chorus which hardly needs any introduction. This time the massed voices of HK Phil Chorus were strengthened by the the Learners Chorus, which began life as the HKU Student Union Choir years ago. Its joyous and jubilant sound is a most fitting conclusion to what came as a great surprise to me: great music can be local too!