Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op.36
Piano Concerto No.2 in G minor, Op.16
Yuja Wang (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Landau
Reviewed: 24 March, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture is an effective display piece. Played to the hilt, let off the leash, it can excite; otherwise it can come over as rather uninspired. On this occasion there was certainly some fine individual playing, but since – overall – there was no real passion or sense of the unbridled, the piece made a disappointing opener.
The soloist in Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto (1913) was the 23-year-old Beijing-born Yuja Wang. She played the Andantino opening most tenderly, and a similar sensitivity was evident at the start of the Allegretto section, whose subsequent spikiness was equally well caught. She rose to the technical demands of the forbidding cadenza with real bravura, a quality that was even more evident in the fleet and motoric scherzo. With dry wit Wang and the RPO dispatched the lumbering Intermezzo, after which they vigorously threw themselves into the tempestuous finale. At every turn here, especially in the second of the cadenzas, Wang adroitly combined power with poetry, and in the high-octane coda she was thrillingly supported by Charles Dutoit and his players, the brass making a terrific impact at the close.
The opening of Stravinsky’s complete score for The Firebird lacked both definition and tension, although later on there was some fine playing: from winds and trumpets in ‘Dance of the Firebird’; clarinets and flutes – piquantly – in the scene of Ivan capturing the Firebird; and, individually, from Clio Gould (violin), Vicci Wardman (viola), and Tim Gill (cello). The ‘Berceuse’ was very nicely done, with memorable contributions from John Anderson (oboe) and Paul Boyes (bassoon), and the work’s coda was played grandly enough. But, ultimately, there was no sense of having experienced a musically, and hence dramatically, convincing whole.