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Alexander Lazarev slows down with the HK Philharmonic at the Cultural Centre June 6, 2010

Posted by Alan Yu in Classical, Culture, Music.
Tags: , ,

The last time I saw Alexander Lazarev he was somewhat like a prancing hyperactive teenager, and nearly botched Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings at the Festival Hall in London.  In the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall on June 3rd, he was a changed man.
Stepping on to the stage slowly behind the soloist of the evening, he was the very epitome of composure and maturity.  Together with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and its principal clarinettist Andrew Simon, Lazarev opened the programme with Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A, K622.
Mozart completed the Clarinet Concerto, said to be his last purely instrumental work, a few months before his death in 1791.  It’s one of several works for the clarinet he wrote for fellow Freemason and master clarinettist Anton Stadler.
My introduction to this work was some 30 years ago, in a recording by Jack Brymer and the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis.  At the time, Brymer also happened to be the host of a weekly BBC music programme I played on the radio.  When Brymer made this recording in 1964, he was almost 50 years old, probably a tad older than Simon.  I had high expectation, which Simon fulfilled.
Before the orchestra launched into the work, Simon explained that he was going to use the “basset-clarinet”, for which the work was originally composed.  The basset-clarinet has four more semi-tones than the modern clarinet with which we are more familiar, reaching the low C instead of just the E.
Lazarev meticulously coaxed a gentle and subdued tone out of the orchestra in the delicate and somewhat bashful introduction, in a measured tempo Mozart would have approved, maintaining an even rhythmic pace throughout the rest of the first movement.  Simon handled his entry with equal finesse.  The fine interplay between soloist and orchestra was balanced and lively.  Although Simon’s fluency in the rapid scales and arpeggios was less silky than that of Brymer, his tone was fuller with the resonance of his instrument in the lower register.
Simon brought out the best of the wistful lilt in the Adagio – popularised by the movie Out of Africa in the 1980s – a melody you could almost sway to in a reverie.  In the last movement, he was able to maintain the vivacious pace without becoming overly ebullient, with the orchestra always a step behind lending solid support.
The second work in the programme, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103, with the title The Year 1905, was no less than a “great leap forward” from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in historical as well as musical terms.  An evocative work that surveys 50 years of suffering by the Russian people in the first half of the 20th Century, the work spans a range of moods, melodies and harmonic structures, sometimes adopting the somber pace of a funeral march, and sometimes the heady pace of blood-curdling violence born of desperation.
As a first generation “baby boomer”, born just after World War II, Lazarev would not have suffered cultural persecution under Stalin.  Nevertheless, as an ethnic Russian, he would no doubt have empathised with Russian composers from that era in their pain.  He clearly succeeded in transferring this empathy to the Hong Kong Philharmonic, which effectively captured the contrasting moods and raw emotional power of the four consecutive movements of the Symphony, culminating in a deafening combination of percussion and clanging bell in the final movement, entitled The Tocsin.
At the end of the concert, a small gesture by Lazarev showed that he understood the essence of leadership.  As the audience raved in rapturous applause after the concert, he re-entered and stood at the side of the stage rather than the centre to acknowledge the contribution of the orchestra.
Under Edo de Waart as Artistic Director and Chief Conductor in the past few years, the Hong Kong Philharmonic has honed a mature and subtle tone of world-class quality.  It’s said to be one of the finest orchestras in Asia.  Its handling of the diversity of the two works on June 3rd demonstrated its coming of age.


1. Wayne McEvilly - November 22, 2010

I am glad – more, I am blessed – to have come upon your blogsite – It is a great pleasure to read your posts, and I look forward to the continuing conversation on twitter –
I wish you a well-deserved growth in your reading audience.
Thank you.

Alan Yu - November 23, 2010

Thank you for your kind words, Wayne. I’m blessed to have a professional such as yourself take an interest in my amateurish random thoughts. It’s nevertheless a pleasure to share.

2. Ed Jeter - January 27, 2011

Happy 255th Birthday to W.A.Mozart. January 27, 2011. Eddissimo

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