Review: London Symphony Orchestra

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 10:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 10:14am

London Symphony Orchestra
HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Reviewed: March 8

Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto is notorious for its technical demands. Beyond that obstacle, however, lies the challenge of finding artistic touches to personalise a performance, which soloist Yuja Wang achieved chiefly by dint of her stunning technique.

Being in such supreme digital control enabled her to highlight parts of the textures that are rarely brought to life. She was fearless in the finale, where many performances compromise on speed to get the notes in place, and there were moments when the orchestra struggled to keep up.

While others go for the safety belt of the sustaining pedal to navigate the virtuoso passages, Wang (right) had no such need, transforming them with laser-like clarity.

There were a couple of niggles: the opening statements of the first movement were lacking in balance and, while the orchestra played with its heart on its sleeve in the second movement, Wang's passion didn't match up.

Mahler took 10 years to decide on the final version of his Symphony No. 1, Titan. I've been listening to the piece for 50 years and still find it difficult to fathom what the most suitable overall thrust of the piece might be, since the four movements follow similar structures and comprise a cocktail of similar elements: anxiety, elation, rusticity and sensuality among them.

Daniel Harding, the orchestra's principal guest conductor, had some essentially simple, but effective solutions for making the piece add up to a well contrasted whole. He kept the brakes on the intensity of the opening movement until the final minutes, when the climax burst like a coiled spring, while the peasant dance of the second movement was vibrantly characterised by a perfect blend of rustic plod and elegant spring. The third lingered over the beauty of each moment, while the finale's outer sections were played unashamedly white hot, with no holds barred in the brass and percussion.

The brazen encore was a medley from John Williams' score for the film Star Wars. An exhilarating evening.

Sam Olluver