Monday, April 23, 2012

...playing that combines the spontaneity and fearless imagination of youth

That was from Yuja Wang's publicity piece.  Well, maybe....

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Roberto Abbado, presented a program which included"

Kabelevsky- The Comedians
Tchaikovsky- Serenade for Strings in C major
Rachmaninov- Concerto No. 3 in D minor for Piano and Orchestra
The piano soloist was Yuja Wang.

Roberto Abbado has conducting the ASO several times in the past few seasons.  He is a top flight interpreter- he attends closely to dynamics, to orchestral balances, and entries.  The ASO musicians seem to respond to him very well with smooth polished playing.  For such a talented musician, who admittedly has music-oriented genes (his uncle is the legendary Claudio Abbado), his Wikipedia entry is only about a paragraph long.  Maybe he only has a part-time publicist.  Nevertheless, he is an in-charge conductor, who also happens to look good in a tuxedo. It was nice to see a conductor in a tux instead of the loose fitting tents that some seem to like wearing.  

The choice of the Kabelevsky work was interesting.  For a work compose in 1940, this was the first performance of this work in Atlanta, according to the Encore Atlanta magazine.  Kabelevsky was closely tied with the Communist Party, a role that probably influenced his rather conventional music style.  While briefly appearing on the black list of composers decried by the Soviets for formalism, his name was removed, likely because of his party ties.  To his credit, he contributed to the development of music that was relevant and approachable for children.  In fact, "The Comedians" was written for a children's theater piece.  A few of its movements, including the Galop and March are probably familiar to most adults because they have been frequently in television shows and cartoons.  The ASO performed admirably under Maestro Abbado.  The orchestra was pared down quite a bit, which often makes them sound more cohesive and warm in the harsh symphony hall acoustics.  The percussion section is highlighted in this composition, and of course the ASO players meet the challenge easily.   This was a thoroughly enjoyable performance and I hope we can revisit it in the not-too-distance future.

I must admit that over the years I have become weary of Tchaikovsky's music.  He was a master melodist and orchestrator, but his music has seemed episodic and sometimes just too emotional.  So when I saw the "Serenade" on the program I was underwhelmed.  Well, Abbado's influence changed that for me.  Of course, only the ASO strings were on stage.  They played magnificently with a burnished sound that sometimes is missing in their performances.  They seemed well prepared and played with enthusiasm.  Each sections were precise, as if only one instrument was playing.  Abbado's approach highlighted some of the inner voices of the piece.  He did not set out to deconstruct the work, but rather to demonstrate that Tchaikovsky was more than a pretty melody.  Thus the violas were able to be clearly heard and appreciated, and the basses were encouraged to stand out a bit more, which added weight to the sound.  It was for me like listening to the work with "new ears."  It was welcome and the glorious sound of the ADO strings was particularly appreciated. 

The Rachmaninoff Third Piano concerto is not on my top ten list, and likely not on my top 100 list.  Rachmaninoff, like his compatriot Tchaikovsky, was a master melodist and a bravura orchestrator.  The problem for me with his music is that when he bridges from one section of a movement to another (e.g., the Second Movement Adagio) he seems to sputter around in a kind of dithering compositional style  that slows down the momentum of the piece, which leaves me a bit disinterested.  This concerto is a tour de force for a pianist, with its notorious virtuosic demands.  Ms. Wang has the technical expertise to hit all of the notes correctly.  She can bang out the grand fortes with the might of a much larger pianist.  That's not where I had a problem with her playing.  It was the average decibel level of her performance.  To me, her elegant tone was mostly overshadowed by the orchestra.  Often, it seemed like she thought she was a pianist in the orchestra rather than a soloist in front of it. Possibly Abbado could have tamped down the orchestra a bit, but the soloist should also adjust to make a performance a totally satisfying experience.   I just don't think that Ms. Wang did her part. But the Symphony Hall audience loved her.  There were numerous curtain calls for both Mr. Abbado and Ms. Wang.  She thanked the audience with a splendid encore, which I believe was a piece  by Chopin.  But, to me, it was a good performance by a technically proficient 24-year old pianist who has yet to find a loud enough voice in front of an orchestra. 

Ms. Wang looked stunning in a bright red dress.  Even if her performance was a total bust (which of course it was not), watching her walk confidently across the stage was  reward in itself.  She was truly elegant. 

This was a very rewarding program and Maestro Abbado should be welcomed back whenever he chooses to return.  And thanks to all of the ASO members for playing at peak performance levels. 

Here is a sample of Ms. Wang playing Scriabin on You Tube:

No comments:

Post a Comment