3rd HKICMF - Gala Opening Night

Cho-Liang Lin
TimeOut Hong Kong

By Mark Tjhung

3rd Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival - Gala Opening Night Concert

City Hall, Wednesday January 11

It almost feels wrong to single out any performers when it comes to chamber music. Such is its collaborative nature – the intimate connections, the subtle nuances, the sheer exposed reliance on your peers – that it seems slightly incompatible with celebrating a star performer. But such were the circumstances of the opening night of the 3rd Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival, kicking off more than a week of almost 20 concerts and events, that it was almost inevitable that a certain Ning Feng would steal the limelight. Earning a late call up (along with Desmond Hoebig, deputizing for the injured Gary Hoffman) for the sick and unable-to-travel violinist Kyoko Takezawa, the young Chinese violinist wowed the bravo-spouting audience with his effortless virtuosity, clarity and command. It’s not the first time we’ve witnessed Ning in Hong Kong – but he does seem to be getting more impressive with each visit.

Of course, he didn’t steal the limelight easily. It was a spotlight that veered –was wrestled with, you could say – throughout the night. The collective started very much as the champion. The opener Last Round by Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov was as much a visual spectacle as aural – a scene of dueling string quartets that filled City Hall with avant garde drama, tension, glissandos and occasional machismo fire – with festival curator Cho-Liang Lin leading with aplomb. The Piazzolla Suite continued the Argentine conversation, with the quintet impressively capturing the essence of this sensual and flamboyant work with a particularly energetic and passionate reading, despite a difficult arrangement of four violins and bass. But once Ning and DaXun Zhang came together for Bottesini’s Grand Duo Concertante for Violin and Double Bass, the evening took on an even more special aura, with their virtuosic conversations, alternating between Ning’s crisp and colourful passages to Zhang’s high-register flourishes, resonating throughout the night.

For moments during the crowd-favourite finale Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, both Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud, with a boyish charm and exemplary musicianship, and the talented, elegant and silver-shoe donning Clara-Jumi Kang won hearts. The audience was also dazzled by the collective display of Lin, Kang, Kraggerud, Ning and Zhang for the Brahms encore. But it was Ning that stole the show. And while that may be so, the whole evening was a rather special advertisement for the potential of chamber music.