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Yuja Wang proves impressive at Academy

March 29, 2008|Rick Schultz | Special to The Times

The need for last-minute replacements is an unfortunate fact of concert life. But sometimes the situation lets someone else bloom.

Yuja Wang, a 21-year-old Chinese pianist, has already substituted for Radu Lupu and Martha Argerich, and on Thursday she added Murray Perahia to that distinguished list, filling in for him at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

Perahia, who had been scheduled to conduct the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields from the keyboard and on the podium, bowed out last week because of illness. Someone named Neville Marriner took over.

Fortunately, Marriner, who will turn 84 on April 15, is as spry and invigorating a conductor as ever. Although now mostly associated with the Academy, an orchestra he founded 50 years ago, he was also music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra from 1968 to 1978.

Marriner opened the concert with an invigorating and authoritative account of Mozart's Symphony No. 31 ("Paris"). His taut reading suggested how the composer's increasingly sophisticated concision and structural confidence allowed him to please audiences while continuing to grow as an artist.

In the composer's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491, Wang played with good taste and judgment, her spontaneity enhanced by seamless communication between soloist and orchestra. She was ruminative in the Allegro, poised and precise in the Larghetto.

She also offered her own arresting first movement cadenza, proving she can make a big sound. But this was not a stormy or especially passionate reading. Maybe as she matures as a musician, she will convey deeper dimensions in Mozart's towering, dark-hued score. For now, the somber, elegiac quality she occasionally conjured was satisfying enough.

More ominous were her two encores. She declared an admiration for the virtuosic by choosing Arcadi Volodos' vulgar arrangement of Mozart's "Turkish" March from the A-major Sonata, K. 331, and Vladimir Horowitz's "Carmen" Variations. While it was thrilling to see her quicksilver technique at full throttle, one hopes she won't make a habit of such display. But with audiences urging her on, the temptation will be strong to take the route Lang Lang has favored.

After intermission, the Academy gave a transparent account of Mendelssohn's short, youthful Sinfonia No. 10. And in the other major symphonic work on the program, Haydn's Symphony No. 104 ("London"), Marriner's perfectly paced Andante and spirited Finale brought the composer's farewell to London and to the symphonic form to a delightful conclusion.

A single encore, the second movement from Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 5 ("Reformation)," highlighted his orchestra's burnished strings.

Wang and the Academy will appear at UCLA's Royce Hall tonight in a program featuring Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony and "Hebrides" Overture, with Wang repeating the Mozart concerto.

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