Back in town playing the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto with the San Diego Symphony at the Jacobs Music Center on Saturday (Oct. 26), Chinese superstar Lang Lang once again basked in the adulation of his fans. Given his cool, detached account of the work’s opening movement and maestro Jahja Ling’s lack of urgency until the end of the last movement, it was hard to tell if the applause was for the performance or for Lang Lang simply being Lang Lang.
A more cynical observer might describe Saturday’s concert as a dress rehearsal for the orchestra’s Carnegie Hall performance on Tuesday (Oct. 29), although it would be unfair to begrudge the orchestra and soloist thorough preparation for for such a demanding venue. Because this piano concerto is one of the most familiar and over-programmed concertos in the repertory, it is safe to say that it will take a bolder, more vibrant approach to turn heads in New York. The other works on the Carnegie Hall program are David Bruce’s commission, “Night Parade,” and the Sergei Prokofiev Symphony No. 5, both of which were given persuasive performances on the orchestra’s season opening weekend concerts Oct. 4-6.[php snippet=1]
Ling proved more engaged and focused in the Antonin Dvorak Symphony No. 8, which comprised the second half of this concert. Although the orchestra will not play this work in New York, it is part of the repertory for the China tour (Nov. 1 – 9). Conducting from memory, Ling paced the work well, lingering over the ingratiating bucolic scenes of the Adagio, but pressing the martial buildups in the outer movements with dramatic flare. The orchestra displayed welcome rhythmic unity in the melancholy waltz and furious Bohemian dance of the Third Movement (Allegretto grazioso), and the string sections continued to burnish their sonority throughout the Dvorak symphony.
Two Slavonic Dances by Dvorak opened the concert, with the brassy, brisk G Minor, Op. 46, No. 8, proving the more impressive.
Attired in dark suits rather than their customary formal concert attire, it was likely that the male musicians of the San Diego Symphony had already packed their formal wear for Monday’s tour departure. All San Diego music aficionados wish the orchestra and retinue the safest of travels and successful concerts.