Edinburgh International Festival 2015 – San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas – Decoration Day & Tchaikovsky 5 – Yuja Wang plays Beethoven

Ives
A Symphony: New England Holidays – II: Decoration Day
Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Tchaikovsky
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Yuja Wang (piano)

San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas


Reviewed by: Gregor Tassie

Reviewed: 28 August, 2015
Venue: Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco SymphonyPhotograph: michaeltilsonthomas.comIn their second concert in Scotland’s capital, the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas once again introduced us to a work by an American composer, on this occasion the opinion-dividing Charles Ives. In the second movement from his Holidays Symphony, the composer evokes memories of his father and the music that he especially liked. There was a funereal air to the opening before soliloquies emerged from the woodwinds, matched by beautifully rapturous playing on strings. At the point of the hymn ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee’ there was a wonderful contribution on the cornet over the strings. A march much favoured by George Ives (Charles’s father, a US Army band-leader during the Civil War) sounded as Ives hoped: “as good a march as Sousa or Schubert ever wrote.” At the climax there arrived on the violins the mourning intonation of “the shadow of the early morning flower-song rises over the Town and the sunset behind West Mountain breathes its benediction upon the Day”.

Yuja WangPhotograph: ©James CheadleIn Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, Yuja Wang produced a stunning reading, bringing flair and charisma, and revealing startling technique and wonderful artistry. In opening piano solo, Wang seemed just a little hesitant and wary, yet this was soon thrown aside, and a partnership of equals emerged. In the cadenza she produced a fantastic display of imagination. The slow movement was intensely moving, with great affection and empathy. The finale fairly sizzled. Wang’s encore of Volodos’s arrangement of Mozart’s ‘Turkish Rondo’ (from the K331 Piano Sonata) was of astounding virtuosity, classical meets jazz.

Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony revealed the quality of the SFS. The spacious tempos adopted by MTT made the themes a little too pedantic, though dramatic energy lost. Yet he brought-out all the colours of the richly wrought score, the waltz of the third movement treated as a balletic divertimento. We were in a land of happiness and joy with none of the angst that Mravinsky found in this work. The spectacular execution, with a thunderous march in the Finale, made this a celebration of life. A strange interpretation, though.

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