By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Yuja Wang, pianist); Symphony No. 4
Thursday, August 12, 2012 • Hollywood Bowl
Combining Gustavo Dudamel, Tchaikovsky, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and two stellar soloists has made for boffo box office this week at Hollywood Bowl. Tuesday night, with Yo-Yo Ma as soloist in the Schuman Cello Concerto, was sold out in advance and there were very few empty seats at last night’s concert, especially impressive since Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony concluded both concerts, which might have limited some repeat business.
Last summer at the Bowl, the daringly short “little orange dress” that Yuja Wang wore overshadowed, for many people, her prodigious performance in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Last night’s floor-length purple gown with a long slit elicited no gasps, as happened last summer, which left people free to concentrate on her performance in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.
This is the 25-year-old Chinese pianist’s third big Russian concerto in a year with the Phil (she was soloist in Prokofiev’s third last November) and all three performances have been breathtaking. Last night, she blazed through the powerful octaves in the Tchaikovsky first but — as happened in the other two performances — she balanced those pyrotechnics with elegant introspective passages, at least in the first two movements.
Unfortunately, as was the case particularly in the Prokofiev, she elected to take the third movement last night at an extraordinarily fast tempo, as if to say, “I’m playing it this super fast just to show I can do it.” Yuja, my dear, we know that by now. What would be more exquisite would be to hear you deliver the same level of musicality that shined forth in the first two movements. What Peter Ilyich wrote in the score — played as well as you are obviously able — provided all the pyrotechnics needed. One Lang Lang is enough for this generation.
Dudamel shaped the accompaniment lovingly and made effective use of silence throughout the piece. Aside from some brass bobbles at the beginning, the orchestra accompanied Wang splendidly. Catherine Ransom Karoly on flute, Principal Cellist Tao Ni and Principal Oboist Ariana Ghez were particularly noteworthy in their second-movement solos. The sound engineers, who accentuated the bass throughout the evening, tended to make the Steinway piano sound somewhat tubby from my spot at the back of the boxes.
Tchaikovsky’s symphonies have played a major role in Dudamel’s young Los Angeles career so far. He made his Bowl debut in 2005 with a “sit-up-and-take-notice” reading of the fifth symphony, and the sixth was on his first tour as LAPO music director. The fourth last night had some of the same characteristics as the other two but it also had a sense of maturity that made it sound quite different.
Dudamel has something to say every time he tackles Tchaikovsky; you may not always agree with it but you want to know where he will go next. He was relaxed — almost introspective — with most of the first movement last night. The second movement featured luxuriant strings, along with melancholy solos from Ghez and Principal Bassoon Whitney Crockett. The third movement was appropriately playful, and the finale was majestic without being strident — all in all, a marvelous evening.
• Whether or not the highly publicized hearings about helicopter noise over the Bowl and San Fernando Valley residential areas were the reason, this was as quiet as I can remember things for several years — just two minor aerial incursions, one in the third movement of the concerto and the other at the beginning of the symphony.
• This was my first concert this summer at the Bowl so the orchestra members’ dress may not be news for regulars but the men wore white dress shirts (no coats or ties) while Dudamel wore a black dress shirt. Casually elegant; I liked it.
• Dudamel is in the midst of a six-concert stretch at the Bowl.
-- Sunday he leads a concert performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto (LINK).
Next week’s concerts feature another chapter in Dudamel’s “Americas and Americans” series.
-- Tuesday’s soloist is vocalist Juan Luis Guerra in a program of Latino/Hispanic music (LINK).
-- Thursday’s program includes Ginastera’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (with Sergio Tiempo as soloist) and Copland’s Symphony No. 3 (LINK).
-- On August 19, Dudamel joins Plácido Domingo in what is being billed as an evening of songs and opera arias; it’s also a benefit for the Phil musicians’ pension fund (LINK).
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.