Dvorak Symphony 6 – Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Samuel Wong – Barbican Centre, London 2003-02_February-27

This concert received mixed reviews, and I want to concentrate on their performance of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 6 in D major, which ended the concert, because my reaction was radically different to that of two music critics from national newspapers.

These two critics (from memory, from The Guardian and The Times) were essentially in agreement that the performance of this symphony was too hard driven, and almost unmusical.

My reaction, particularly in the first and last movements, was this was a wonderful performance: I was hearing things I hadn’t heard before, and in the first and last movements there were tears in my eye because what I was hearing was so musically satisfying.

This was so much at variance with what I read in the reviews by the two critics that I was more than somewhat relieved to find this review by Alex Russell:


extracts from that review:

… my initial reaction to their playing was how unusual and refreshing it was to hear an orchestra really in tune for once; something glaringly rare among London orchestras of late. …

… Under Wong’s precisely paced direction, Dvorak’s 6th Symphony was not interpreted as a superficial showpiece but as an unfolding musical argument. The conductor clearly grasped the structure, dynamics and drama of this great symphony. Wong got sound of great depth and weight from the HKPO, notably in the first movement where cellos and double basses played with great gusto, with the conductor constantly cueing them.

The Adagio was a very moving experience, with Wong eliciting playing of great passion, notably from the sonorous horns and wonderful flute solos (Linda Stuckey). In the Scherzo (Furiant), timpanist James Boznos got the complex cross-rhythms spot on, while Wong conjured up incredible woodwind detailing not often heard clearly in this manic movement. In the Finale the conductor really demonstrated the momentum, the energy, the drive and drama of what, for me, was one of the most satisfying performances of this under-performed symphony. …

… The HKPO is a world class orchestra, sounding far more musical and individual than most of the big streamlined, and homogenised, American symphony orchestras; indeed, their dark, warm sonorous tone sounded more akin to the Concertgebouw Orchestra – and I can think of no finer complement.

Samuel Wong showed himself to be a first rate conductor and it was his authoritative and charismatic direction that made this evening a very special occasion.


About Colin Bartlett

I'm interested in arts, mathematics, science. Suliram is a partial conflation of the names of three good actors: Ira Aldridge, Anna May Wong, and another. My intention is to use a personal experience of arts to make some points, but without being too "me me me" about it. And to follow Strunk's Elements of Style. Except that I won't always "be definite": I prefer Niels Bohr's precept that you shouldn't write clearer than you think.
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