Strings of diplomacy

Strings of diplomacy

The RBSO celebrates Thai-Dutch relations in honour of HM the King

Strings of diplomacy

With the generous support of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and B.Grimm, the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra (RBSO) gave an uplifting concert in mid-February in celebration of His Majesty the King's Sixth Cycle Birthday Anniversary and the 420th anniversary of cordial relations between the kingdoms of Thailand and the Netherlands.

Dutch violin soloist Niek Baar was joined by compatriot conductor Sander Teepen and the RBSO for a refreshing rendition of Bruch's ever-popular Violin Concerto In G Minor, bookended by Verdi's La Forza Del Destino and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.5 In E Minor.

La Forza Del Destino got proceedings off to a rousing start, and Teepen immediately set out with his energetic stall with an abrupt three-note fate motif announced emphatically by the brass which then segued effortlessly to the hushed, urgent murmurings for the combined violin sections in well-tuned octaves. The intensely emotional Italian spirit and sensitive style were captured well, then continued through the many episodes of this brief but pungent curtain raiser.

Lovely solos by oboe and clarinet principals and a beautifully rendered yearning violin section melody were conveyed with admirable control. The lower octave for 2nd violins was again noticeably slightly louder than, and consequently supportive of, the 1st violins -- clearly a consistent approach that would no doubt have been rehearsed. An exhilarating race to the finish then drew immediate waves of enthusiastic applause from the audience at the Thailand Cultural Centre, who had turned out in impressively large numbers.

Niek Baar, still in his early 30s, has made a positive impression on the international solo circuit in recent years, exuding a charisma and lush variety of violin expressions which seems to hark back to the tonal palette of the great past masters. Performing on the sweetest-sounding of Cremonese instruments -- a 1729 Carlo Bergonzi -- his interpretation of Bruch's Violin Concerto No.1 In G Minor was captivating.

Distant rumbling timpani and a nicely tuned woodwind choir introduced that famous entry for soloists on the open G-string. Baar then spun a luscious thread of voice-leading as the Vorspiel gained in momentum and pace. The main function of this Allegro moderato is indeed to set the scene for the central Adagio movement -- the emotional heart of the work -- but many technical hurdles must be overcome before reaching that sublime destination. Chief among these are double-stopped thirds and octaves and triple-stopped chords, all of which Baar projected easily, while the RBSO musicians provided solid accompaniment and thoroughly enjoyed their own explosive orchestral statement leading to the Cadenza.

Conductor Sander Teepen.

The rather more lengthy Adagio unfolded with a blissful serenity and Baar delivered mellifluous melos which recalled the bel canto sound of virtuosi such as Alfredo Campoli and Fritz Kreisler. This confirmed a comment by the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad which said: "When listening eyes closed to this album, one might think that a violinist from the former glory days of Fritz Kreisler is speaking here."

The gypsy-inspired Finale opened with a nicely controlled motor rhythm, first in violas, then 2nd violins, before Baar dispatched his full arsenal of pyrotechnics. Aside from very occasionally indistinct arpeggiations, his technical delivery was reliably superb with two well-known double-stopped moments in 10ths projecting crystal clear. Meanwhile, far more reflective in nature, for his encore he enchanted the TCC with Bach's Sarabande from Partita No.2 In D Minor.

Already thrilled by the level of the RBSO during the first half of this concert, the audience was then treated to a quite masterful reading of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.5 In E Minor under the sure direction of maestro Teepen. Employing a no-nonsense approach on the podium devoid of any unnecessary histrionics, his straightforward hand gestures are of the clearest variety (he chooses not to use a baton). The musical results are invariably of the highest quality, achieving an orchestral cleanliness which allows the composer's wishes to be expressed directly and without undue fuss. For a work as well-known as this, that is indeed pleasing.

The entire woodwind section played exceptionally well throughout, whilst Principal Horn Supreeti Ansvananda delivered the legendary Andante cantabile solo with fine control and nerve. Bravissimi!

Violin soloist Niek Baar.

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