Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Yuja Wang and Members of the Hong Kong Philharmonic. September 6, 2017.

HK Cultural Center Concert Hall.  Stalls (Seat D49, HK$480).

Program – Yuja and Friends: A Chamber Night.
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 (1861) by Brahms (1833-1897).
Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 (1882) by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).

Yuja Wang, piano; Jing Wang, violin; Andrew Ling, viola; Richard Bamping, cello.

Between two concert performances with Hong Kong Philharmonic, Yuja Wang will perform in a chamber concert with several Hong Kong Philharmonic musicians.  The program is quite traditional (Brahms and Tchaikovsky), although each piece presents its set of technical and artistic challenges.

Both pieces were written as some sort of remembrance for the respective composer’s mentor.  In Brahms’s case it was for Robert Schumann, written in 1856.  It consists of four movements: Allegro; Intermezzo (Allegro ma non troppo – Trio – Animato); Andante con moto – Animato; Rondo alla Zingarese (Presto – Meno Presto – Molto Presto).  Plagiarizing the Program Notes, some of the characteristics of the piece are (i) having an intermezzo rather than the usual scherzo or minuet – although I am sure people would be okay if it is labeled as a scherzo; (ii) the “toy-soldier” theme in the third movement which is supposed to be the memorial; and (iii) the gypsy theme in the last movement marks the first time Brahms incorporates Gypsy elements in his work.

I listened to a YouTube performance of this (by a rather well-known quartet, but forget which one).  My reaction was somewhat of an “oh oh” as the piece was quite long (for today it was about 40 minutes); and I couldn’t quite make sense of it.

Tonight’s performance sounded much more coherent than how I remembered it.  The themes got passed from one instrument to another seamlessly, and the musicians came to the foreground and faded into the background naturally, complementing one another well.  I was impressed with the three Hong Kong Phil musicians.  The Program Notes also contained a brief mention of their biographies: Jian Wang is Chinese Canadian; Ling is a Hong Kong native, and Bamping is a Briton.  They were all good, and their instruments sounded superb.

The longer Tchaikovsky Trio (47 minutes) contains only two movements: Pezzo Elegiaco (Moderato assai – Allegro giusto); Tema con Variazioni – Variazione Finale e Code.  The story as described by the Program Note is a little incoherent.  Tchaikovsky was of the view that the instruments didn’t work well together and he was thus not ready to write music for this type of ensemble.  It took the persuasion of his patron Nadezhda von Meck to convince him to do so, after the death of his former mentor Nikolai Rubinstein, who had criticized Tchaikovsky earlier work – the second movement of his second piano concerto which was effectively a triple concerto.

The Program Notes describes the first movement as an expression of the sorrow at Rubinstein’s death, and the second movement – variations on a theme Rubinstein loved – episodic descriptions of Rubinstein’s live.  Tchaikovsky himself denied it.  The coda was a solemn funeral march.  I couldn’t quite track the variations.

Throughout the performance, Yuja simply let the music speak for itself.  She was just one of the voices, her flamboyant outfits (lime green and bright orange)  not reflected in her playing.

 Jiang Wang handing Yuja Wang a bouquet.  Notice the two empty sections in the concert hall.

Two empty rows in the main auditorium.

It was a rather long concert, but enjoyable.  I was surprised at the large number of empty seats, there were two sections that had no people at all.

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