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Czechs in Bangkok Continued: Leoš Janáček

The Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra delivered two of Leoš Janáček’s most beloved compositions — Taras Bulba and Sinfonietta — on Saturday, February 17, in the Prince Mahidol Hall. The reinforced brass section in the Sinfonietta pulled out all the stops to give a shower of stentorian fanfares and sonorous flourishes, reflecting Janáček’s dedication of the piece to the Czechoslovak Army, and honoring the composer’s belief in the heroism of the common man.

The unexpected delight of the programme was Paul Creston’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Band, Op. 26 (1944), beautifully rendered by a young Japanese saxophone virtuoso Naomi Shiraishi. Ms. Shiraishi gave a spirited reading of a work that is obscure to many a classical music enthusiast. I had not heard the Creston Concerto before and it took me by surprise. Ms. Shiraishi’s phrasing was exceptionally smooth and fluid, tracing every hidden nuance in the piece. Her fingerwork bespoke an uncanny dexterity exhilarating to listen to and watch in equal measure. The first movement, marked ‘Energetic,’ presents a challenging cornucopia of constantly shifting rhythms bound to stir even the most obdurate listener. Creston’s Concerto sinks the stereotype of 20th-century concert music being impenetrable on first hearing. I am now listening to Claude Delangle’s recording of the Saxophone Concerto, but find myself wishing for Ms. Shiraishi’s fierce version. I hope she will record the piece soon.

The TPO’s Chief Conductor Alfonso Scarano returned with enhanced powers of intimidation and piercing gaze, at times audibly hissing at the players. I wonder if the orchestra’s rehearsals are shrouded in an atmosphere of fear that can sometimes be seen oozing into the concerts under Scarano’s direction. Beethoven asked, “Muß es sein, or must it be?” In Scarano’s defense, he pushes the musicians to give great performances, but he lacks the warmth and humanity of Gudni A. Emilsson, Dariusz Mikulski or Jeffery Meyer.

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