Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Jahja Ling Conducts Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev

Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances, op. 45
Prokoiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 (Yuja Wang, piano)
Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34
The Cleveland Orchestra, Jahja Ling, conductor.

Frequently after leaving a concert it's difficult for me to select a favorite piece from the concert but usually even in those cases one piece is able to squeak across the finish line slightly ahead of the others. Rarely, the entire program is so compelling as to render any such ranking impossible. Tonight was one of those concerts.

Arriving at Blossom, I immediately noticed that the lawn seemed unusually full; as the concert time approached I noticed that both the lawn and pavilion appeared impressively full, particularly for a classical program. And that audience received quite a treat.

Opening the program tonight, Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances -- that composer's last work, was just sheer delight to listen to. In the first movement, two passages with particularly a particularly strong harp and strings (particularly violins, but since I was seated house left, that could be simply because I was closer) pulling me in emotionally. If the first movement pulled me in, the second movement held me tight, with a lone tear making an appearance in my left eye; particularly notable from this movement was a barely audible, ephemeral, pizzicato from the low strings. The final movement of the piece loosened its grip but was still captivating. I had closed my eyes and one passage, combined with the birds and crickets outside the pavilion felt like a storm rolling in on a secluded farm, finding peace, and going out with a bang.

(The one annoyance with tonight's program came during this piece, however: Mr. Ling took an interminable pause between the first and second movements, during which ushers seated latecomers: The overall effect was even more disruptive than inter movement applause)

Following intermission Ms. Yuja Wang joined the orchestra on stage for Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3. While it seems like I've read quite a bit of Ms. Wang lately, it also seems some outlets have become more obsessed with her choice of clothing than her playing. And wow; as she was playing the rest of the world--and what she was wearing--was of little consequence. Both hypnotized and mesmerized throughout the piece it was as if time stood still; yet it was as if the piece had finished before I had time to breathe.

Like a hummingbird, Ms. Wang's hands seemed to hover just above the keyboard; her fingers barely visible and striking with precision; there were times when notes fluttered out of the piano but the finger producing that note didn't seem to move. Despite playing with impressive speed, neither the Orchestra nor Ms. Wang gave the slightest hint of a lack of confidence or a tentative touch.

Most shocking visually, there was a point -- I think it was during the second movement, but that part of the brain was disengaged -- there was a point where my direct line-of-sight turned tunnel vision included Ms. Wang at the piano, Mr. Ling on the podium and cellist Richard Weiss all doing their thing. Its the sort of thing where the visual so perfectly captured the audible that I wish I would have been able to snap a photograph.

Closing out the program, Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio was a light desert on great concert, with some great violin solos played by Concertmaster Peter Otto.

(note: The original version of this post incorrectly identified the cellist)

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