A tonal excursion from minor to major usually has some life-enhancing magic, but from Staatskapelle Dresden and its principal guest conductor Myung-Whun Chung this concert felt doggedly rooted in the minor.
The opening movement of the Rachmaninov breezed by with an air of detachment. If the work’s fearsome demands are tempered by a dreaming delicacy, Chung and Yuja Wang underlined the latter, with the emphasis on finesse and polish rather than fevered emotions and power, reducing its technical difficulties to playing of Mozartean grace. She brought playing of admirable clarity and where Rachmaninov’s dramas were understated there was plenty of detail and fluency. Intimacy and some passion found their way into the second-movement ‘Intermezzo’ lit by glowing strings and Wang excelling in scintillation. The Finale’s rollercoaster journey sashayed along with more of Wang’s rippling, if soullessly, its bravura apotheosis perfectly judged. There followed two extras from her: Rachmaninov’s Vocalise (the last of the Fourteen Romances, Opus 34), in a harmonically odd transcription (Earl Wild’s perchance?) and Art Tatum’s infectious arrangement of Vincent Youmans’s ‘Tea for Two’ (from No, No, Nanette), despatched with a gentle touch and humour.
Brahms’s Second Symphony is generally considered to be his ‘Pastoral’, a relaxed melodic outpouring. But there’s relaxation and then there’s sleepwalking, and much of this account very much belonged to the latter, as well as conjuring recent images of a well-known Tory MP reclining morosely in the House of Commons. The first movement (without exposition repeat) was taken at a funereal speed and not helped by Chung’s irritating habit of broadening the tempo at every opportunity and specifically arresting the flow before each of the two main themes. Personable contributions from woodwinds and horn brought some relief to this heavy-footed reading that lacked any sense of sweep, its momentum continually held back. The Adagio was grey, unloved and a sepia-tinged affair. Chattering woodwind and dancing strings brought some charm to the third movement, and the emotional temperature at last began to soar with a Finale surging with energy (its first forte almost brutal in its power) and jubilation, its con spirito fully realised by the incisiveness of the playing, producing wild abandon, the coda careering headlong towards joyful release, if hectically. An idiosyncratic account of Brahms’s First Hungarian Dance (only one of three that he orchestrated from the twenty-one piano-duo originals) served as an encore.
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- BBC Proms www.bbc.co.uk/proms