Yuja Wang playing Mozart? The brilliant young Chinese pianist who makes a splash everywhere with her fiery, dashing accounts of the mighty piano concertos of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev graced the San Diego Symphony’s season-opening concert Friday (Oct. 9) performing Mozart’s early Piano Concerto in E-flat Major, K. 271, “Jeunehomme”.
Rococo, to be sure—Romantic, not in the least.
There is no doubt this Mozart concerto is a virtuoso vehicle, and Wang’s technical prowess allowed the composer’s opulent thematic effusions to sparkle with crystalline clarity. But this is not the volcanic virtuosity (when I am in a grumpy critic mood, the adjective I use is “bombastic”) of thick crashing chords and dazzling octave flourishes in both hands that audiences crave and reward with equally thunderous applause.
Wang asked her audience to come to Mozart, whose music she calmly revealed in beautifully proportioned phrasing and artfully understated dynamic levels. In the opening Allegro, I thought Music Director Jahja Ling encouraged too much vigor from the orchestra, a level that did not quite match Wang’s elegant composure.
Wang coaxed a languid intimacy from the brooding middle movement, a probing, reflective mood that Mozart would later bestow on the conflicted women in his great operas. Wang’s sumptuous lines had an improvisatory quality, which Ling followed assiduously if not always successfully.
In the vivacious Rondo that closes the concerto, Wang made her dazzling figurations appear effortless, and in this movement, Ling and the orchestra were congenially united with the soloist in both tempo and dynamics.
As an encore, Wang offered her own extravagant, audience-pleasing arrangement of Mozart’s Rondo Alla turca, from his A Major Piano Sonata, K. 331.
Of Serge Prokofiev’s six ballets, his Romeo and Juliet is the most acclaimed, and, for this concert, Ling selected his own compilation of individual sections from Prokofiev’s three orchestral suites drawn from the original ballet score. A sprawling but colorful and dramatic score lasting just under an hour, this Romeo and Juliet allowed every section of the orchestra to shine and gave nearly every principal player a juicy solo opportunity.
Although the orchestra played its last Summer Pops program over a month ago, their ensemble proved formidable, and they sounded eager to rise to the more serious challenges of the Jacobs Masterworks Series, which this concert inaugurated.
Ling took particular care to delineate the details of the tender scenes, especially those with gossamer solos by Principal Flute Rose Lombardo or poignant themes from Principal Cello Yao Zhao and Principal Viola Chi-Yuan Chen. Dramatic conflicts in the score evoked ferocious growls form the low brass and steely retorts from the upper strings. Ling’s stately processionals always hinted at the composer’s trademark sardonic edge, yet a simple folk-like melody from the cornet was allowed its innocent charm.
Ling opened the concert with a highly charged account of the familiar Overture to the Johann Strauss, Jr. comic opera Die Fledermaus.