In their latest online offering, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and conductor Hans Graf grasped the opportunity to consider less obvious repertoire calling for fewer musicians on stage. The string players (well, 23 of them) first took on Strauss’ Metamorphosen, whilst the woodwind and French horns (plus a double bass) responded with Mozart’s Gran Partita serenade.

Hans Graf conducts the Singapore Symphony strings © Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Hans Graf conducts the Singapore Symphony strings
© Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Metamorphosen is a densely textured work, unsurprisingly given its 23 individual string parts. There is a clear debt to Beethoven, explicitly marked by Strauss with a quote from the Eroica Symphony’s funeral march, inscribed in the score with “In Memoriam” – but as to whether the piece itself is mourning Beethoven, a lost Germany, the city of Munich itself, or even Strauss’ own life, is left unclear. Suffice to say, the interplay between the Eroica idea, and a knocking, insistent three note motif, along with a more lyrical melody that emerges from time to time creates an intensity that never lets up throughout the work’s 25 or so minutes.  

After a slightly delayed start due to technical issues, the SSO players launched into the opening chords with an immediately rich sound. There was a remarkable tightness of ensemble throughout, despite the extra distance between players, and that also allowed some of Strauss’ more rhapsodic individual solo moments to shine through the texture with confidence. In Graf and the SSO’s rendition, the sunnier side of the lyrical melody won out slightly, and some of the grinding upward repetitions of that three note motif could have taken more grit and less politeness, but the sweeping waves of rich string sound had powerful depth, underpinned by the meaty double basses. Even as the piece withdrew into its quiet conclusion, those basses were still brooding away at the bottom. This was a warm, accomplished performance, just needing a notch or two more on the anguish dial.

It was then the turn of the wind players, and Mozart’s Serenade no. 10 in B flat major – a mammoth chamber work, and a feat of stamina for the players, with only occasional let ups in the 50 minutes of its seven movements. The SSO players began with a warm blend quickly established, although the syncopated offbeats took a short while to settle. The Allegro was bright and brisk, with sharp articulation in the development’s running scales, particularly from the bassoons. The first Menuetto set off at a slowish tempo, with energy levels somewhat subdued throughout. Again, there was a warm blend between the clarinets and basset horns in the first Trio, but one felt the oboist wanting to push on in the second Trio, yet to no avail. Consequently, at the slower tempo, by the time of the Menuetto’s final return, it was sounding a little tired. Conversely, the Adagio which followed could have been given a little more breathing space, although the oboe’s line blossomed with great tenderness, matched by the clarinet and basset horn as they took over. The second Menuetto had greater pace, and finally the music began to dance, with a particularly delightful, rippling second Trio. The central Allegretto in the Romanze also had sprightly energy, with spiky basset horns. However, a slower tempo returned for the Theme and Variations, which allowed for precision and attention to detail, but it was only in the lightly bouncing final variation that pulses quickened. This energy carried forward into the Rondo finale, taken at a healthily brisk tempo. The episodes had great spirit, with close observance of the dynamics, and the movement built to a positively joyful finish. 

 

This performance was reviewed from the Sistic video stream