To commemorate HM the Queen's 80th birthday, the Great Artists of the World 2012 series was inaugurated last week with a performance by celebrated Japanese-American violinist Ryu Goto, playing with our very own Bangkok Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the proficient Chikara Iwamura. The programme consisted of three popular pieces all composed by Tchaikovsky.
The concert started with the Polonaise from Act 3 of the opera Eugene Onegin. The recurring and attractive main theme of this elegant dance piece and its aristocratic manner set the appropriate tone for an evening full of memorable melodies and thrills.
Being an early work of the Russian master, the Violin Concerto was probably the highlight of the whole programme.
Only 24 but already a budding virtuoso, Ryu Goto knows this masterpiece inside out and so was incapable of disappointing anyone. With an impeccable technique, exquisite phrasing and mature interpretation, he communicated his musical thoughts to us with great clarity.
We were especially privileged to be treated to the glorious sound of a 1715 Stradivarius, a sublime specimen of violin which can achieve a wonderful variety of nuances. Goto somehow managed to make simple passages sound meaningful, and difficult ones easy and convincing.
The bridges between the solo and orchestra parts were mostly seamless.
Goto was well able to capture the dramatic Russian spirit and this was especially noticeable in the last movement. The lyrical, pondering second movement, entitled Canzonetta, proved that he is at home with both fast and slow music, one sign of a great artist. He enjoyed full support from the BSO and had a good rapport with the conductor.
For the encore, he left us in awe with Paganini's Nel Cor Piu Non Mi Sento, a fiendishly difficult, 11-minute solo with seven variations based on an opera by the late 18th century Italian composer Paisiello. To our surprise and delight, he was also in the mood to reveal little touches of humour here and there.
The second half of the concert was devoted to a single piece: Symphony No.5 in E minor, an underrated gem that, for many, dramatises the composer's personal struggle with melancholy and ends with a grand victory.
In the first movement, two clarinets finely played the hopeless three-minute main theme, a "motto" that would reappear later in the piece. A much livelier second theme was announced at the right pace. Then came a passionately lyrical yet unassuming theme, followed by a crescendo and climax played by the woodwind and brass players.
The second slow movement (interestingly marked to be played "At lyrical walking pace with some freedom") is distinguished by the juxtaposition of two main connecting themes with two different characters.
Sounding appropriately distanced, the superb horn brought out the more tragic and resigned first theme while the oboe passionately rendered the second to show more conviction in life.
Being the shortest of the four movements, the third shows Tchaikovsky's creativity in deciding to include his favourite dance, the waltz, in a formal piece, followed by a scherzo. The end has the "motto" resurfacing.
The final movement presents another study of two contrasting moods: the slow, distinctive, majestic theme (the happy version of the "motto") and the very lively one, leading to a triumphant ending. All in all, despite possible quibbles about the orchestra's inadequate efforts in the pianissimo department, the BSO's solid, well-blended sound and the fine contrapuntal interplays between the strings, brass and woodwinds should more than compensate for any minor defects on the night.
Maestro Iwamura deserved a round of applause for his skilful handling of the orchestra as well as for his patience and personal humility.
About the author
Writer: Apisak Pupipat