Prom 61, Royal Albert Hall, review: Theatrical entrances and marching-band explosions

The moment Yuja Wang launched into the maelstrom of octave runs which begin Bartok’s Piano Concerto No 2 she was in her element

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The Independent Culture

Yuja Wang always makes a theatrical entrance, and this time in a spangled Marilyn Monroe ball-dress, but the moment she launched into the maelstrom of octave runs which begin Bartok’s Piano Concerto No 2 she was in her element.

Bartok had written this to show off his own pianistic prowess, but Yuja made it seem as relaxed as a walk in the park, turning the pages of the score she had placed inside the piano while never missing a note of the unbroken chains of two-hand melody which constitute much of this helter-skelter work.

If there were times when her touch was too light to convey the poetry, that function was discharged by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony: opening the Adagio with a pianissimo on the edge of audibility, they created an enchanting stillness in which their soloist could shine.  

They did something similar in Charles Ives’s A Symphony: New England Holidays – Decoration Day, filling the air with what felt like a remembered sound with no discernible source; each episode had its charm, particularly the marching-band explosion which started and stopped like a window suddenly opened and shut again. The Prom concluded with a spirited Eroica: this band doesn’t do perfection, but its heart is very much in the right place.

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