Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op.30
Petrushka [1947 version]
Yuja Wang (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Barbican Hall, London
Thursday, February 20, 2014
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In her performance of Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto a week previously Yuja Wang had given intimations of a rich musical imagination in the midst of all the brittle pugnacity that this work contains, so expectations were high that the much greater opportunities for expression offered by Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto would be provided by this young Chinese soloist. They were most certainly fulfilled. The high degree of almost nonchalant virtuosity was present, as before, but from the very first notes there was also a most unusual sense of intimacy on Wang’s part, of her searching continually and spontaneously for the inner meaning of the music. This was combined with a most beautiful quality of tone: there was a most affecting purity in her delivery of the music, with a total absence of artifice or sentimentality. Daniel Harding conducted very attentively, but in the first movement he occasionally allowed the orchestra at full tilt to overcome her efforts.
In the second movement, Harding drew some very heartfelt playing from the LSO, and here both pianist and conductor were at one in conveying the long melodic spans and yearning quality of expression. The finale was taken at an unusually fast tempo. Here Wang’s playing was thrilling in its combination of virtuosity and delicacy, and she seemed possessed by a degree of sheer keyboard power that didn’t seem physically possible for such a petite young lady. We’re used to having pianists extravagantly and sometimes damagingly over-promoted, but Wang really is an exceptional talent, and hopefully will sustain a long and distinguished career. But somebody needs to talk to her about her dress sense, since the image she conveys is inappropriate and has attracted negative comment.
After the interval Stravinsky’s Petrushka, glitteringly seductive though the work is, might have provided an anticlimax, but Daniel Harding conducted an exuberant, characterful account of the revised 1947 version. The LSO responded brilliantly to his clear, precise direction, and the dramatic ending of the ballet, where Petrushka’s ghost appears, was quite chilling, even though there was no stage action to see.