When concerts take place at all in Hong Kong these days one gives thanks. And when youthful vitality is channelled into high-level artistry rather than destructive outdoor mayhem it’s a blessing. On Saturday evening at Hong Kong City Hall’s Concert Hall, concertgoers were charmed by the Hong Kong Sinfonietta’s performance of Mozart’s Figaro overture and Beethoven’s Symphony no. 1 in C major and then treated to the Sitkovetsky Trio’s dashing rendition of the Triple Concerto with principal guest conductor Christoph Poppen at the helm.

Christoph Poppen conducts the Hong Kong Sinfonietta
© Hong Kong Sinfonietta Ltd

It was a tough week all around, not least for the musicians of the Sinfonietta. Transport disruptions lead to inadequate rehearsal time and (presumably due to the score’s complexity) the Hong Kong premiere of Hans Werner Henze’s Symphony no. 1 was the unfortunate sacrificial lamb. When German Christoph Poppen announced Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro as the filler, however, the audience certainly didn’t revolt. As things panned out, the cheeky overture proved an ideal opener for the Mozart-friendly Sinfonietta, arguably kicking off one of their finest performances of recent times.

The young flagship orchestra definitely fills a crucial gap in Hong Kong, contributing another sound dimension to the musical landscape. In this case, the overture under German-born Poppen (dare I say) simply popped! His aptly sprite, yet tightly-reined tempo sat particularly well with the orchestra as they appeared to enjoy Mozart’s snappy contours, playing with plenty of pep and precision.

Precision prevailed in Beethoven’s vibrant First Symphony with Poppen and the Sinfonietta maintaining their steady rhythmic focus. The Adagio segues into the brisk outer movements were clear and crisp (even the slightly unorthodox opening one into the Allegro con brio) and the Andante cantabile was marked by loving charm and grace, set up beautifully by the stepping accompaniment in the second fiddles, albeit rather directly. The Menuetto hopped along with positive vitality across the ranks, the basses chugged with gusto and Poppen guided his players with great direction as they brilliantly reached the climatic chords of the Finale.

Sitkovetsky Trio and Hong Kong Sinfonietta
© Hong Kong Sinfonietta Ltd

Spiellust pops to mind when listening to the three members of the Sitkovetsky Trio. And there was an abundance of passionate playfulness in their performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. The three soloists in this work, affectionally known as “the cello concerto that Beethoven never wrote” for its undeniable cello bias when it comes to first solo entries, are in fact largely united in their interplay. And what top-notch interplay it was, never becoming the trio battle versus the orchestra that can ensue. Russian violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and German-Korean cellist Isang Enders relished their roles as soloists but also never drifted from demonstrating refinement in sound and articulation, the quasi hallmarks of their trio work (as proven here on Thursday). Only on occasion did Chinese pianist Wu Qian’s flurries on the Steinway grand dominate her counterparts, but given the piano was prominently protruding forward centerstage that may well have been unavoidable. Her tonal shading and dexterity were superb throughout and the Sinfonietta provided deft and able accompaniment, proving an integral part of the energy and joy that pervaded the whole performance.