Young musicians and old masterpieces make a beautiful mix
We hear some pieces of music so often — on our iPods, the car radio, while shopping — that it’s easy to start mistaking them for wallpaper. So it takes a very special kind of performer to make us sit up and really take notice again.
There was a stage-full of such special performers on Tuesday night at Roy Thomson Hall, as Chinese piano sensation Lang Lang, the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra and conductor Christoph Eschenbach reintroduced us to the beauties of some well-worn classical masterpieces.
The orchestra, a veritable United Nations of first-rate musicians aged 27 and under, was spectacular. Their youthful energy, precision and eagerness were harnessed with uncommon finesse by Eschenbach, who turned 70 in February. It was the ideal marriage of innocence and experience.
They performed Sergei Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony, first heard in 1918, with a compelling combination of craft, colour and dynamic flexibility. It came out both light and powerful — an approach that also made Ludwig van Beethoven’s 1813 Symphony No. 7 so mesmerizing that the usually cough-prone audience fell totally silent.
The biggest treat in Eschenbach’s readings of the scores was in hearing how he could tease out little musical details while masterfully shaping the longer dramatic arc in each movement.
No less impressive was Lang. Left to his own devices, the 27-year-old pianist can lapse into self-indulgence. But, in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 (K. 453), which dates from 1784, he, the orchestra and Eschenbach played as one, teasing out every gorgeous nuance in the score.
Yes, Lang lingered over the delicacies of the second movement, but, in this context, the concert was all the richer for it. He graciously offered an equally sweet encore, Frédéric Chopin’s Étude in A-flat Major from Op., 25, played with uncommon delicacy.