(Horowitz's Carmen Transcription in the practice room, for shits and giggles.....)
Went to the Baltimore Symphony last night with The McBee and Die Grimes, I made the effort far more for the Bruckner 6 than for Rach's Second Piano Concerto. I'm sad to say that the Bruckner was slightly disappointing. Juajo Mena was on the podium and he gave a reading that was mostly very sensitive but didn't hold the architecture of the score together - nobody should conduct Bruckner until their hair starts graying. Mena studied with Sergiu Celbidache, and you could hear Celi's influence in the incredible array of beautiful sounds he drew out of the orchestra. Unfortunately, also often like Celibidache, he was faced with an orchestra that didn't seem to know Bruckner very well, and there were an uncomfortable number of mishaps through all the winds and brass.
(For the last seventeen years of his life Celi was director of the Munich Philharmonic, an orchestra that knew their Bruckner. Unfortunately by then Celibidache's attempts at probity had turned into caricature. And what were once beautifully layered conceptions from one of the great conductors of the twentieth century calcified into Zen slowness. Tempos like these should never work. And yet Celibidache gets away with it, because even in his dotage he was a truly great musician.)
Much as I occasionally still love his music, I have long since tired of Rachmaninov appearing on every concert program. So it was to my astonishment it was the Rach that overwhelmed - not with pyrotechnics, but with poetry. Yuja Wang does not look like a thunderer, and frankly she isn't. This is not Martha Argerich's Rachmaninov, it is the work of an extremely sensitive musician who obtained the most musical possible results. And even if Wang doesn't overwhelm with size, she sure can overwhelm with speed. The final movement was taken at a heady clip, and she brought out the contrasts and transitions with the slower sections perfectly. This was extremely sensitive, characterful playing in a work that practically invites displays of incredible vulgarity.
(Her sound is smaller without a microphone, but this is almost the same performance we got. Very tasteful, extremely musical without stamping a personal imprint.)
And then, as an encore she did the Horowitz Carmen Transcription. Horowitz would have made a bigger sound, but she played it nearly twice as fast as Horowitz did (at least in later years) and with all of Horowitz's clarity. If Lang Lang is our Horowitz - a wonderfully talented musician whose overexposure can lead to displays of vulgarity - then perhaps Yuja Wang can be our Alicia De Larrocha. She's clearly a musician of impeccable sensitivity. I can't wait to hear what she can do with Mozart, Chopin, Debussy et al.
(Lang Lang doing Rach 2. Opposite pole approach. Big-boned, manic, virtuoso, gaudy. With Lang Lang's personal interpretation on nearly every note. I prefer Wang, but I can't deny that this works in its own way.)