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Prom 63: Wang, Staatskapelle Dresden, Chung review – private passions | reviews, news & interviews

Prom 63: Wang, Staatskapelle Dresden, Chung review – private passions

Prom 63: Wang, Staatskapelle Dresden, Chung review – private passions

An intimate journey through a showpiece concerto

Grace and force: Yuja Wangall images Chris Christodoulou/BBC

Weirdly enough, it was “Tea for Two” that definitively proved her class for me. As a second encore to Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, after a mesmeric transcription of that composer’s Vocalise, Yuja Wang’s goodbye treat channelled the mighty Art Tatum with a scrupulous respect for the jazz master’s timing and phrasing. Sometimes, the Beijing-born megastar still finds herself the target of critical opprobrium on the grounds that serious musicianship really doesn’t mix with such a glittery and flamboyant stage personality. Well, tell that to the Abbé Liszt – or to Rach himself, for that matter, although neither could quite have carried off Wang’s sparkly pink sheath at the Proms last night. 

That “Tea for Two” showed in miniature that even seeming frivolity calls for utter commitment, and that fun means nothing without art. No more does brooding, yearning introspection or melodramatic passion in music make its case alone. Wang’s remarkable advocacy of Rachmaninov’s Third owed nothing to corny and overwrought pianistic gestures, and everything to a quiet, sustained artistry. She looked for and found an ever-shifting palette of colours in music that has much more to offer than shades of the deepest Russian blue. Indeed, as the visiting Staatskapelle Dresden began their journey with Wang, I worried that the orchestra’s principal guest conductor Myung-Whun Chung might allow his deep-voiced, big-shouldered band to speak a bit too forcefully on its own account. Inward, meditative, the absolute opposite of some stadium-pleasing crasher, Wang took a while to hold her own against the sumptuous strings and polished, poised brass (those horns!) of the commanding Dresdeners. 

The Royal Albert Hall seldom does any favours to pianistic subtlety in showpiece concertos. So all credit to Wang for sticking to her expansive, exploratory lyricism as the first movement wound through its mysterious labyrinth of moods. Her passagework predictably shone and dazzled. But the rhythmic nuances, and daring rubato flickers and pivots, revealed an artist honestly in search of the piece’s inner truth, rather than some meretricious acrobat content with a parade of flashy stunts. She made us forget the intrinsic difficulty of this famous finger-punishing ordeal and see instead its evolving landscape of emotion. Her playing had grace in abundance as well as the sheer virtuosic force that the concerto manifestly requires. And she excelled at a sort of inner-directed wistfulness that, as the work developed, seemed to call from the Staatskapelle an answering delicacy.

Some of the dialogues with horns and woods – especially in the “alla breve” finale – were simply exquisite in their tenderly assured to-and-fro. Dreamily expressive rather than heroically declamatory, Wang rippled rather than splashed through the extended cadenzas. Meanwhile, the episodic voyage of the finale does – at least as she plays it – bring to mind the quicksilver wanderings of a Lisztian pilgrimage, rather than a stereotypical dose of Russian soul. Yes, the climax delivered a gloriously bold farewell from both piano and orchestra. But the more elusive, intimate aspects of this performance really made it special. Wang has a very public face – but, in this work anyway, a beautifully private musical voice. 

After the interval, Brahms’s Second Symphony gave the Staatskapelle the opportunity to prove that they equally count as Proms guest stars of the first rank. Of course, this is the firmest of home turf for them. Under Christian Thielemann, at their head since 2012, their recorded Brahms cycle stands as a fairly definitive account of a great, unbroken tradition with this repertoire. These days, it’s not the only way to play Brahms well, and at the Royal Albert Hall I missed (for instance) the lithe punch and drive that Mark Elder and the slimline Britten Sinfonia brought to the work earlier this year. No matter: rich-hued, radiant, suitably early-autumnal, the Dresdeners strolled through the pastoral geniality, and occasional storminess, of the Second with majestic confidence. Concert-master Roland Straumer and his full-cream strings brought a depth of texture to the sound that – especially in the Adagio – stayed just the right side of unctuousness. Chung let us appreciate the work’s strong Classical bones and well as its succulent Romantic flesh.

The long, finely sculpted phrases of the Adagio never lost their direction, while the third-movement dance remained “Grazioso” rather than merely rustic. Outstanding throughout, Erich Markwart and his fellow horns sang in even warmer tones through the finale, while flute (Sabine Kittel) and clarinet (Wolfram Grosse) made some delicious interventions. You would probably have to look beyond Dresden for radical, mould-breaking Brahms. Last night, though, gave us a supremely satisfying account of a (rare) happy masterpiece. And the Staatskapelle’s encore of a Hungarian Dance showed that they too can mix consummate skill with straightforward joy.

Comments

Chaqun a son goût. But I found Wang's slowing down and excessive rubato at every lyrical moment an irritation and certainly not the way Rachmaninoff, Horowitz and other masters of this.concerto played it. As for brilliant fingerwork, there were quite a few smudged passage. Never mind, Miss Wang always dresses spectacularly.

I’d love to hear your version......

That's beside the point. What's offensive is that 'kewbawd' does exactly that same thing about Miss Wang's appearance which Boyd Tonkin excoriates. Like her interpretation or not, she's a seriously good pianist anod not some gimmicky glamourpuss.

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