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CLASSICAL Review: Chichon ignites philharmonic season with master symphonies

By C.Wall

Maestro Karel Mark Chichon opened the Autumn Concert with a compelling rendition of Mozart’s popular Symphony No. 40 by the European Sinfonietta.

The brisk opening movement was conspicuously upbeat, smoothing the usual descent into darkness with a reassuring sense of unflappable control. Instead of the dreamy air we usually expect from the slow second movement, we heard something more meticulous, a gentle rise that sacrificed enchanted chromaticism for refined delicacy.

The calm was broken by the Minuet, opening powerfully and never dropping the tension, magnified by expansive woodwind and horn.

I was less impressed by the stately opening of the last movement, which might have been stormier, though the slide towards busy disorientation was sculpted rather finely.

The large number of guests at the event sponsored by the Ministry of Culture introduced unwelcome clapping between movements, which Chichon did his best to ignore.

There was a fresh surprise from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, commonly called the “Fate Symphony” for its celebrated four-note opening motif. Conductors disagree on how to play the first four bars, and Chichon didn’t wait for us to guess what approach he would favour, simply walking towards the podium and firing off the symphony with an offhand baton stroke.

It was a simple trick with an emotive resonance, fate striking when least expected.

Though there are obvious stylistic connections between the two symphonies we heard, Chichon’s approach to Beethoven was quite distinct from his Mozart.

This was the voice of an assertive Beethoven, self-dramatic and full of rhythmic vitality. The Andante second movement, with its double variation, was shaped decorously without losing the momentum of the first.

There was perhaps too much wind in the Scherzo third movement, though the strings replied well, and the local crests and troughs were drawn expertly. The finale was emotionally exhausting, in a good way.

The “Leyenda del Beso” encore was pleasing enough, allowing individual players to flourish.

Chichon knew exactly what sound he wanted from a Sinfonietta playing their first team, and the Philharmonic Society’s audience enjoyed the result.

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