Philadelphia Orchestra/Dutoit Yuja Wang in New York [Review A]

Adagio for Strings, Op.11
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.16
Symphonie fantastique, Op.14

Yuja Wang (piano)

Philadelphia Orchestra
Charles Dutoit

Reviewed by: Andrew Farach-Colton

Reviewed: 13 October, 2009
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Charles DutoitCharles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orchestra brought Barber’s Adagio for Strings to Carnegie Hall, not as a symbol of mourning (which seems to have become the music’s raison d’être), but as a showcase for the orchestra’s string section. And it was. Dutoit coaxed beautifully plush, ultra-legato playing from the Philadelphians; even in stratospheric passages, the violins sounded sure and sweet. Eugene Ormandy would have been proud.

Yuja Wang. Photograph: yujawang.dreamhosters.comIn Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.2, Dutoit again emphasized smoothness and depth of tone, eschewing the incisively accented, brittle style that is normally applied to this work, and thus providing an effective foil to Yuja Wang’s lithe, crystalline performance of the solo part. Indeed, although the 22-year-old Chinese-born pianist is capable of projecting considerable power – as she did at the end of the first movement’s massive and emotionally messy cadenza – her sound is tintinnabular and distinctly non-percussive. This worked nicely in the scherzo, where Wang seemed to slide, like quicksilver, all over the keyboard, yet also (if more surprisingly) in the scorching finale, which she played with almost-shocking Mendelssohnian lightness that amplified the music’s manic character.

Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique started impressively with Dutoit bringing out the dreamy longing of the first movement’s slow introduction, while the Allegro agitato e appassionato assai was just that: red-blooded and impulsive. Strings dominated the orchestral texture, providing an attractive richness, although there was some attendant loss of detail.

‘Un bal’ (A Ball), the second movement, was opulently colored, fancifully phrased, and playfully giddy. After that, however, Dutoit’s interpretation became increasingly less engaging. ‘Scène aux champs’ (Scene in the Fields) was lovely, with silky, singing strings, but rather lacking in drama (there was nothing remotely ominous about the concluding rolls of thunder, for example). ‘Marche au supplice’ (March to the Scaffold) was spoiled both by overly creamy strings and insipid brass playing, which made it seem more like a stroll down the red carpet than a raucous parade to the guillotine. Finally, ‘Songe d’une nuit de sabbat’ (Witches’ Sabbath) was so pretty and polite as to be downright dull. Instead of the diabolical orgy of witches and monsters Berlioz had in mind, we were presented with a lavishly choreographed yet drearily predictable costume party.

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