Adagio for Strings, Op.11
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.16
Symphonie fantastique, Op.14
Yuja Wang (piano)
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 13 October, 2009
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Only 22, pianist Yuja Wang has already established herself as a major force. Recently Claudio Abbado chose her to perform Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto concerto with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, in Switzerland as well as on the orchestra’s tour to China. Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto presents considerably greater challenges. Yuja Wang met them brilliantly. Her command of the instrument is such that even in the most fiendishly difficult passages, like the cadenzas, her spectacular technique is but a means to an end, a tool to express the emotional content of the music. After an understated beginning, Wang perfectly captured Prokofiev’s many moods, lyrical, playful, intense, building-up great waves of sound for the powerful climaxes. Charles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orchestra were supremely responsive partners throughout.
The concert opened with Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, starting from a mere hush, senza vibrato. The Philadelphia Orchestra with its fabled string sound should be ideal for this piece, but something seemed amiss. The violinists were sitting fairly far apart on a flat stage, and their sound never quite blended, individual players distinguishable. Furthermore, attacks were ragged, harmonic changes often imprecise, the lower strings sounding behind the upper. With such a large ensemble one could imagine the use of staggered bowing to achieve long lines, a practice for which Leopold Stokowski was famous and that Klaus Tennstedt occasionally employed, but only at the climax did Dutoit allow it. While the performance was well structured, the overall sound was slightly disappointing.
During the concluding Symphonie fantastique the upper strings were also slightly strident, again raising the suspicion that even the fabled Carnegie Hall acoustics may have some weak spots. Dutoit was at his most comfortable here, which curiously worked to his disadvantage. Throughout he kept pointing up and emphasizing different details of the score – a melodic fragment here, a countermelody there, accents, colors – but in the end it didn’t quite add up to a coherent statement of the work. As skilfully played as it was, the overall line was missing, and the third movement was taken at such a deliberate pace that forward momentum was almost halted. The ‘March to the Scaffold’ was menacing enough, and the ‘Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath’ never fails to make an impact, but on the whole this was more a display of effects than a profound performance.