Conducting with shimmy of the hips, raised eyebrow

REVIEW / CONCERT

FAMILIAR FAVOURITES – TALES OF LOVE

Richard Lin (violin), Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Kees Bakels (conductor)

Esplanade Concert Hall/Thursday

More than a dozen years have passed since Dutch conductor Kees Bakels left the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, which he founded in 1998 and took, against all odds, to the peak of international excellence. So it was good to welcome him back to South-east Asia.

The big question was, could he work his magic on the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO)? The answer was a resounding yes.

Rossini’s Overture To Cinderella opened this programme of Familiar Favourites – none of which seemed familiar to many in the audience.

Nobody does a Rossini crescendo quite like Bakels. He started it on his knees, hardly moving his upper body, and then drew himself up to his full height, opening his arms wide as he did so. The response from the SSO was spell-binding.

That was the tiniest of tasters. The true magic came in the second half.

Familiar tunes from Tchaikovsky’s ballet score, Sleeping Beauty, occasionally pop up in concerts, but here, concertgoers had all of the Prologue as well as a great chunk of the first act. Bakels told audiences they could have had acts two and three as well, only that he had left them at home.

With fluttering hand gestures and often not using his hands at all, merely directing the orchestra with a shimmy of the hips or a raised eyebrow, Bakels conjured up playing from the SSO which almost defied belief. Exhibiting a precision and clarity of detail, and producing a meatiness of string tone one did not think possible from the SSO, they gave a performance as scintillating as it was joyous and foot-tapping.

Here was a brilliant demonstration of a master conductor at work and an orchestra raising its game beyond all expectations.

Between these displays of orchestral brilliance came an equally impressive display of violin virtuosity.

Richard Lin’s biography says he has been busily amassing top prizes at major international competitions. And it showed in a performance of the Korngold Violin Concerto, which seemed more concerned with judge-impressing technical prowess than interpretative insight or real musical involvement.

Lin possesses unbridled virtuosity, but it was left to Bakels and the SSO to create the richly romantic atmosphere, which lies at the heart of Korngold’s work.

Managing to avoid making the piece sound like the hotchpotch of Hollywood movie themes of the 1930s and 1940s, which it really is, Bakels pushed it along purposefully, letting the big tunes soar and never allowing emotional self-indulgence get in the way of Lin’s glittering, crowd-pleasing virtuosity.

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