Unlike most concerts by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, there was no prelude or overture preceding the concerto. Instead, the evening opened with Mozart’s popular Double Piano Concerto in E flat major (K365). The familiarity of Mozart and preceding fame of the dynamic Dutch duo, pianists Lucas and Arthur Jussen, ensured that there were no empty seats. The audience’s faith was repaid in full with a sparkling performance that lacked nothing in innate musicality and outward showmanship. Still in their mid-twenties (Lucas is 26 while Arthur is 23), their seeming telepathic chemistry and maturity in surveying the music would be the envy of duos twice their age.

Lucas and Arthur Jussen, Gabriel Bebeșelea and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra © Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Lucas and Arthur Jussen, Gabriel Bebeșelea and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
© Singapore Symphony Orchestra

The first movement flowed like oil, as Mozart would opine about his piano music, and immaculate articulation ensured a smooth ride all through. The ability to listen to each other – and others – was also key in the slow movement. An intimate conversation struck between the two was also shared by the orchestra’s solo woodwinds, most notably the oboes. The finale’s opportunity for virtuosity was not lost to the brothers, and the Rondo proved to be a thrilling ride. The ensuing loud ovation was rewarded with a nifty encore, Igor Roma’s Sinfonia 40, a three-minute syncopated and jazzy take on the first movement theme from Mozart’s Symphony no. 40.

The orchestra, conducted by rising young Romanian conductor Gabriel Bebeșelea, began the concert’s second half with the Asian premiere of George Enescu’s Pastorale-Fantaisie for small orchestra. First performed in 1899, this ten-minute long gem was “lost” until rediscovered by Bebeșelea, who gave its first modern reading in 2017. Opening with low strings in a drone, the bucolic and likely folk-inspired music unfolded beautifully in F major. Then came a short but tempestuous central section with a hint of a fugue taking place, filled with stock-in-trade orchestral stormy effects, rising to a climactic high before ending in quiet bliss. Sounds familiar?

Then the penny dropped, as this was the young Romanian polymath’s tribute to the greatest symphonist of all, Ludwig van Beethoven, whose “Pastoral” Symphony was to follow. This stroke of programming nous was not initially apparent on paper, but totally succeeded in the concert hall. The performance of the symphony was just as good. Conducting from memory, Bebeșelea kept the narrative taut and the music breathing. The litheness and goodly pace resembled period instrument performances but without the wheeziness and thinness of textures.

The Scene by the Brook did not linger, with the rippling of water and rustling of leaves complemented by fine woodwind contributions in the birdcalls. The Merry Dance of the Peasants was suitably rustic, with woodwind and French horn solos leading the way before the gathering storm approached. Jonathan Fox’s timpani and Roberto Alvarez’s piccolo were thunder and lightning in the maelstrom, which seemed all too brief, as the sun broke through the clouds for the final movement’s hymn of thanksgiving. This was a fine and evocative performance all round, but made more special by its unexpected but wholly apt prelude, the rare delight offered by Enescu.

****1