Review: pianist Yuja Wang dazzles in performance of Brahms concerto

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 June, 2015, 6:08am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 June, 2015, 6:08am

Brahms' Piano Concerto No2 is a big, unruly piece, but Yuja Wang's playing was so dazzling that it even outshone her gown, which shimmered like a chandelier.

The piece has a wealth of ideas and wonderful interplay between soloist and orchestra. The main theme in the first movement is a simple anthem like a school song, beautifully introduced by solo horn.

The piano began by trading phrases gracefully with the orchestra, then erupted in angry chords. Conductor Jaap van Zweden followed Wang's lead sensitively, never covering the piano. A favourite moment was the main theme played softly by the strings with Wang overlaying a starry sprinkle of high notes.

Romanticism surged through the Allegro appassionato. Van Zweden always draws something extra from the strings, and they added a fervent momentum. Another high point was Richard Bamping's cello solo in the Andante movement - elegant but with a touch of freedom. Andrew Simon on clarinet also exquisitely matched the piano's timbre. The final Allegretto grazioso movement captured the right elfin sound, with bright bon-bons on the high keys. But when the big moments arrived, Wang dug into the bass notes. A strange echo in the hall was distracting - loud treble keys seemed to have two attacks.

Debussy's tone poem La Mer was not as convincing. The brass, woodwinds and percussion were loud in the mix, forming separate layers instead of blending. The impressionistic blurring of colour and ambiguous phrasing of the French style were not as authoritative as the Germanic drama and clarity of line in the Brahms piece.

The first movement of La Mer, "From dawn to midday on the sea", was delicately sketched with harp, timpani rolls and tremolo strings. The climaxes were exciting.

Ravel's Bolero was the terrific release it is meant to be. It had fine solos, notably the saxophone played by J. Michael Holmes and amusing slides on the trombone. It is a witty piece, and holding the violins in the lap ukulele-style for pizzicato sections was fun.

Yuja Wang Triptych 3 - Brahms, Hong Kong Philharmonic

Cultural Centre Concert Hall. Reviewed: June 19