An Asian take on Beethoven

In Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61, the entrance of the violin after the orchestral exposition is awaited almost like a messiah – there is something out of this world about the rising octave run and the transition in high positions to the lyrical melody of the main theme.

This is a very important moment – when the violin enters, we are transported to musical heaven and stay there right up until the end of the work. Some violinists, such as Nigel Kennedy, offered perky interpretations, but the almost 23-year-old Taiwanese talent Yu-Chien Tseng preferred to stay true to the classical tradition. Yu-Chien Tseng, who asked backstage to call him Benny, has achieved a lot by winning second prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2015 (no first prize was awarded), and gold medals at the Singapore Violin Competition (earning the prize of $50,000) and the Pablo Sarasate Competition in Pamplona, Spain. Last summer he signed a recording contract with the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label, and this January saw the release of his first album on DG, Reverie, which features a varied repertoire – from Tartini to Wieniawski.

Violinists consider Beethoven’s D major Concerto as a supreme test of violin skills, the ideal one has to be mature enough to reach. Such an approach seems a bit old-fashioned in our impatient times – more and more young violinists tackle this masterpiece with success, where the melodious, inspired solo violin part is bound up organically with the orchestral part. So I was curious about how Yu-Chien Tseng would interpret this concerto. With the bow’s first contact with the strings came a warm and colourful tone at the Warsaw Philharmonic, because Yu-Chien Tseng plays the Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù 1732. Though I found the Taiwanese violinist’s occasionally wobbly intonation a little disturbing, I was endeared by his beautiful tone, fluency of playing, and natural, light phrasing, especially in the first and second movements of the concerto. As regards the third (Rondo: Allegro), my temperament as a listener demanded a bit more lively tempo.

The violinist answered the call for an encore with Sarabande from Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach, which was performed with that essential tinge of melancholy.

I was impressed by the precision and culture with which Hong Kong Sinfonietta under Ms Wing-Sie Yip accompanied the soloist. The Hong Kong Sinfonietta was the second attraction of the concert yesterday, which was an all-Beethoven programme: the already mentioned Violin Concerto, and in the second half of the evening, Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60. It remains in the shadow of the great symphonies – “Eroica”, the Fifth, the Sixth, and the Ninth. Robert Schumann aptly called it “a slender Greek maiden between two Norse giants”, emphasizing its classical spirit. Cheerful nature, beautiful clarinet solo and the extraordinary moto perpetuo finale – which requires remarkable virtuosity – make this little masterpiece unforgettable (hence my joy with its inclusion in the programme).

Wing-Sie Yip, who received her education in Europe and the United States, and is an experienced conductor giving regular concerts in Asia and Oceania, has the ability to discipline the orchestra. Hong Kong Sinfonietta, which she has led for 15 years, has very good technique. Unlike European orchestras, which – often influenced by the period instrument movement – strive to push tempi, Hong Kong Sinfonietta conducted by Wing-Sie Yip approached the Fourth Symphony solemnly and respectfully. Again, a more lively tempo was missing in the final movement (it is true, though, that Beethoven added non troppo to Allegro). If only Wing-Sie Yip introduced some more playfulness, one could believe that classical music does not always have to be so serious.

Valse Triste by Jean Sibelius served as an encore.

Anna S. Dębowska

Monday, 3 April, 7:30 pm, Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall