New York Philharmonic – James Gaffigan & Yunchan Lim

Valentin Silvestrov
Prayer for Ukraine

 Prokofiev
Symphony No.3 in C-minor, Op.44

Rachmaninoff
Piano Concerto No.3 in D-minor, Op.30

Yunchan Lim (piano)

New York Philharmonic
James Gaffigan


Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 10 May, 2023
Venue: Wu Tsai Theater, David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

The evening opened on a somber note, with a tenderly rendered account of Eduard Resatsch’s arrangement of Valentin Silvestrov’s a cappella Prayer for Ukraine, now often performed worldwide to express solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

A vibrant performance of Prokofiev’s masterful Third Symphony followed. Written in the late-1920s and drawing on material from his opera The Fiery Angel, a story of religious hysteria, demonic possession and psycho-sexual dementia, never staged in his lifetime. Opening with jarring chords and tolling bells, the Symphony has a strange, otherworldly atmosphere, much of the music intense, sometimes quite harsh and loud. Under Gaffigan, the grotesque nature of the work emerged with power and vividness, especially the grislier moments in the diabolic Finale, but he also underlined the spacious harmonies in the more delicate – albeit anxious – passages of the strikingly colorful score.

Yunchan Lim’s New York Philharmonic debut followed, at age eighteen the youngest winner of the Van Cliburn Competition, playing this very Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto with Marin Alsop and the Fort Worth Symphony. This New York Philharmonic appearance put his artistry on full display. He delivered an electrifying rendition with remarkably assured technique; light, clean articulation; and silky, smooth tone. To be sure, there were plenty of fireworks – he confronted the massive chords fearlessly and with great clarity and took the octaves in the coda at terminal velocity. He opted for the shorter variant of the first-movement cadenza – the one the composer preferred – and it was powerful and swift. But he was at his very best in the softer, more lyrical passages, shaping the expansive melodies with tenderness and understated elegance, receiving strong support and sensitive response from Gaffigan and the Philharmonic, who created gorgeously sweeping symphonic shapes.

Lim offered two encores: first, a dreamlike interpretation of Liszt’s own arrangement of his song ‘Pace non trovo’ from Tre sonetti del Petrarca, and Liadov’s lilting Prelude in D-flat from the Opus 57 Three Morceaux.

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