SSO Concerts: Leningrad Symphony & VCH Chamber Series – Dohnanyi & Shostakovich

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by Burt Thyng

Held over the last weekend, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) and the VCH Chamber Series featured two great masterpieces from Russian composer Shostakovich: Leningrad Symphony and Piano Quintet in G minor respectively.

On the Leningrad Symphony:
Composed during tumultuous times in St. Petersburg, which was formerly known as Leningrad, the Leningrad Symphony took form when the city was under siege at that time by Hitler who had vowed to destroy it. Given the circumstances, more than half the orchestra died by the time they got to the performance, as the musicians were severely malnourished that many couldn’t walk up the stairs for practise even. Meant for a 115-member symphony, only 30 survived, and even so, the performance went on, helping to motivate people to pull through the horrifying circumstances, hence becoming one of the greatest piece of motivation during wartime.

A heavy repertoire of almost an hour and fifteen minutes in its entirely, a masterful conductor was definitely required to tame this beast, and for the night, Rozhdestvensky lead the orchestra to stunning heights in the exhilarating performance. With excellent expressions featured through the piece, the SSO captured the zeitgeist of WWII well, moving the audience with its emotional intensity and imagery of how the citizens of Leningrad fought hard against the oppression and depravity of the Nazi regime and eventually merging victorious, leaving the audience with important lessons on having grit to face adversities in our lives.

On the Piano Quintet:
The Piano Quintet in G minor is another of Shostakovich’s masterpiece, but this was composed before the Nazis turned its back on the Soviet Union. For this performance, due to a last minute change, pianist Viktoria Postnikova’s place was replaced by Albert Tiu.

The role of the pianist was supposed to be the main instrument switching verses between the instruments like a play, but due to a swap at the 11th hour, pianist Albert Tiu was not quite able to foster a sense of trust in his styles and rhythms, and it throws the violins a little off. What made it even more difficult, was that the piece already had a degree of lop-sided and purposely messy melodies, thus making the portion sound unexpectedly disjointed.

To be fair, Tiu had only one day to practise, so we should at least be grateful that they didn’t cancel the entire performance. We should give him due credit for playing up a gloriously rumbustious melody above intense and furious string chords in the Scherzo. Not an easy feat.

In any case, the light and cheery performances (prior to the quintet) by 2 Hungarian composers – Kodály and Dohnányi – more than entertained the audience. Tan Wee-Hsin (viola), teases out the folk-music essence of these pieces effortlessly, clearly steering the trio in the right direction.

If you are interested to catch a SSO performance soon, Symphonie Fantastique would be up next at the Esplanade Concert Hall, 5 March 2016 at 7.30pm. Tickets are currently on sale at Sistic, or you can stay tuned to our giveaway tomorrow for a chance to snag a pair!

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