Was the randomness of works in Saturday’s Hong Kong Philharmonic concert any cause for concern? Not at all. Despite the lack of thematic thread, this show bag of musical (and optical) goodies went down a treat at the Cultural Centre’s Concert Hall. Taking into account the heroic nature of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 3, a quasi hymn to freedom, this concert opener seemed fitting considering the 21-day mandatory quarantine that Austrian conductor and violinist Christoph Koncz endured for his Hong Kong concerts. 

Amber Lewis dances an excerpt from Balanchine's Emeralds
© Eric Hong | HK Phil

The minor irritations that arose in the slow and tragic introduction resulted from string players struggling to find their usual compact sound, and the occasional fluttering of desperate page-turns. Both tasks are equally challenging for players nowadays given socially-distanced seating and single music stands. But once settled, the drama began to unravel well, albeit with restraint. The distant off-stage trumpet call (signalling Florestan’s reprieve) was effective and synced to perfection, and Koncz’s concise and compact conducting style was purposeful as he constructed a stirring and heroic conclusion.

“What is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown song of which the first solemn note is sounded by Death?” These sombre words by French poet Alphonse de Lamartine from his Méditations poétiques inspired Franz Liszt to compose Les Préludes, the birth of the “symphonic poem” as we know it. This repertoire is made-to-measure for the Hong Kong Phil, and Koncz, as he did in Leonore, erred towards tempi on the grand and stately side, extracting maximum richness of sound from the orchestra. As always, the brass section was superb in its precision. 

Garry Corpuz and Chen Zhiyao in Eine kleine Nachtmusik
© Eric Hong | HK Phil

Some fun and whimsical choreography in the middle movements of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik by HK Ballet’s esteemed artistic director Septime Webre provided a welcome interlude, with notably impressive acrobatics from dancers Luis Cabrera, Albert Gordon, and Kyle Lin Chang-yuan in the Menuetto. Even if the strings of the HK Phil under Koncz were sometimes bogged down with earnestness in the Andante, the pas de deux of Chen Zhiyao and Garry Corpuz charmed and delighted. 

Previously, in two variations from George Balanchine’s ballet Emeralds, Yang Ruiqi danced the Sicilienne from Gabriel Fauré’s Pelléas et Mélisande Suite with seamless beauty, while both Amber Lewis’ solid technique and the gorgeous oboe playing of Michael Wilson impressed in the tranquil opening Fileuse.

Chiyan Wong, Christoph Koncz and the Hong Kong Philharmonic
© Eric Hong | HK Phil

Following Hong Kong-born pianist Chiyan Wong’s impressive Mendelssohn and Bach/Busoni recital last Monday at City Hall, expectations were high as the Berlin-based virtuoso joined the orchestra for Maurice Ravel's brilliant Piano Concerto in G majorIf ever a piano concerto suited a pianist, this was it. As cool as can be, with an outwardly relaxed demeanour that belies his intensely focused playing, the gifted virtuoso delivered super-clean and crystalline articulation right from the initial whip-crack beginning. His sustained trilling was stunning, and phrasing in both the bustling Allegramente and Presto outer movements was always purposeful. With fantastic jazz-infused wind solo interjections across the board, Wong appeared as comfortable as any jazz musician would be in their local piano bar. The evening’s highlight was arguably the gorgeous Adagio assai, a quasi love song of Satie-like simplicity and tenderness in Wong’s hands, producing sound of ethereal quality whenever he emerged from the orchestral texture.