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Music Review

A forced Rach 2 from Joyce Yang

September 05, 2009|Rick Schultz

Thursday was a sultry night at the Hollywood Bowl, with a fiery moon an apt lead-in to an old-fashioned Romantic program in which guest conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya led the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" and Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise" and Piano Concerto No. 2.

The soloist in the concerto was Joyce Yang in her Bowl debut. Born in Seoul, she won the silver medal at the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, at 19. Since then, she's been establishing herself in the Russian repertory. Past notices for her Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev concertos have praised her supple phrasing, fine articulation, poise and intelligence.

But on this occasion her performance felt forced. From the opening chords, suggesting tolling bells, Yang pushed and pulled phrases, only sometimes to interesting effect. Though she demonstrated the kind of presence and charm that delights competition judges and audiences, she rarely conveyed the power this robust and hugely difficult score demands.

This was not an equal partnership, with Harth-Bedoya reluctant to challenge Yang's determined account. Balances were a problem. In the first movement, her arpeggios got lost amid the violins, violas and clarinets -- a reminder of how much time the piano spends accompanying the orchestra.

Yang can play with delicacy, though she tended to skim over the keys. She can handle breakneck speed. But her overly bright, thin tone created what the late Times critic Daniel Cariaga once called "a sameness of aural textures." Perhaps that quality was exaggerated by the Bowl's amplification system.

The good news is that she is continuing her studies at the Juilliard School, which suggests she's a serious musician who may yet emerge in the front rank.

After Yang's exciting dash to the finish, a Bowl crowd of 9,641 treated her to a standing ovation. Her encore: Schumann's Intermezzo from "Carnival of Vienna."

After intermission, Harth-Bedoya displayed his command of musical narrative in "Scheherazade." It's a wildly colorful score, and the orchestra played it with tender, surging passion. The work can feel long in the wrong hands, but the conductor proved natural and winning, paying just the right amount of attention to inner detail without cluttering the larger fabric.

Philharmonic concertmaster Martin Chalifour turned his sweet-toned and nimble violin into a beguiling narrator, a sultan's wife who saves herself by telling stories to her husband over 1,001 nights.

The concert opener, an orchestral setting of Rachmaninoff's wordless "Vocalise," set a soulful, melancholy mood.


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