From the Steeples and the Mountains; The Unanswered Question
Piano Concerto No 3 in C, Op.26
The Firebird [1910 Original]
Yuja Wang (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas
Reviewed by: Francesco Burns
Reviewed: 30 June, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto was tackled by rising star Yuja Wang. Many young pianists treat this work as a vehicle to showcase their strength, a sort of boxing match between pianist and piano, and between piano and orchestra. Tilson Thomas didn’t fight, presenting it rather as a highly charged dialectic. This is not to say Wang needs to be treated with kid gloves for she achieved a convincing balance between the percussive and lyrical, dancing elegantly with the orchestra in the second movement; most impressive was her sensitive phrasing and scintillating accuracy in filigree passages. She played the third movement with an almost vocal sensibility, ranging from a subdued whisper to an agitated shout. The coda could have been a little more hysterical, and although Wang opted for glissandos in the nigh-on-impossible cluster-chord flourishes, one couldn’t help be humbled at what was an authoritatively commanding performance. For an encore, Wang offered the finale from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A (K331), ‘Rondo alla turca’, in Volodos’s transcription.
Tilson Thomas then presented Stravinsky’s The Firebird in its original version. The opening glowed with warm colours, setting the bar high. ‘Dance of the Firebird’ was light and glistening, and the encounter with ‘The thirteen enchanted Princesses’ was shaped in long languid phrases. The crepuscular hues of ‘Dawn’ were dense. ‘Infernal Dance’ into was whipped into terrifying frenzy, spinning up to its emphatic climax with some solid brass playing. Throughout this performance, Tilson Thomas’s command was impressive, marking entries so clearly with a snap, shaping textures and balancing the sound with such ease. The ending was a joyous affair avoiding crude bombast. Overall, this was an exquisitely polished, seamless performance.