Jeremy Lee writes
A week after van Zweden’s Ein Deutsches Requiem concert, both of us at Top Ear attended this concert in which our beloved new HKPO director conducted Elgar’s Sea Pictures, Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony and Herbrides Overture. The focus of my review today is on the Elgar song cycle featuring contralto Christianne Stotjin, highly favored as it seems by Bernard Haitink, who invited her to sing in his recent concert recording of Mahler’s 2nd symphony with the Chicago Symphony.
It was, for the most part, an enjoyable performance. Van Zweden and the HKPO served as a lovely accompaniment, with surprising precision of ensemble and a cultivated tone thanks to van Zweden’s ear for balance, bringing the orchestra together with cohesion at all times. The string nuances of the second and fourth songs (“In Haven–Capri” and “Where Corals Lie” respectively) were utterly charming. Though one might wish for more literal attention to the rumbling or surges of the waves (the crescendo-diminuendos of the basses and the strings could have been done more vibrantly) in the first song (“Sea-Slumber Song”), and the fact that the (chronically weak) brass failed to cut through the climax of the third song (“Sabbath Morning at Sea”) sort of robbed that moment off its visceral impact when done well, van Zweden and the Philharmonic proved themselves a reliable, sensitive and more-than-adequate accompaniment. And as for Stotjin, despite some wobbliness in her voice especially when the going got tough in the higher or louder notes, her basic tone was rich and solid, and her pronunciation was mostly clear though not always accurate. Projection was a problem as heard from where we sat (the balcony seats, and at a 3-o’clock direction from van Zweden’s conducting position) due to the Cultural Centre’s fabled acoustics, and I would hold the sonics to account of Stotijn’s excessive vibrato. But those were trivial matters–more importantly, she was always musically inclined and passionate, devoted to the score, and her chemistry with van Zweden and the orchestra was very enjoyable. A pleasant performance, then, which means that the one biggest problem with the performance, which I have left for last, can be summed up in two words.