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S.F. Symphony review: Wang's awesome Rachmaninoff
San Francisco Chronicle
By Joshua Kosman
At this point, there's no more news to report about Yuja Wang. She is, quite simply, the most dazzlingly, uncannily gifted pianist in the concert world today, and there's nothing left to do but sit back, listen and marvel at her artistry.
Happily for local audiences, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony were among the first to recognize her pre-eminence, and quickly forged a relationship with her that has brought us a series of revelatory local appearances. The latest came over the weekend, when Wang joined the orchestra in Davies Symphony Hall for a titanic account of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto.
There were other delights on the program on Sunday afternoon, but Wang's Rachmaninoff was clearly the headline event. It wasn't just the fact that she made this concerto's fabled technical difficulties - its thunderous chordal writing, its intricate passagework, its wearying length - seem easy, although that was part of it.
More remarkable still was the depth and imagination she brought to the entire score, and the way she made the piece's virtuosic angle just one part of its purpose.
Of course, there were plenty of opportunities for showmanship, and Wang dispatched them with her customary aplomb. The fierce keyboard explosions in the outer movements - thickets of notes, densely clustered for maximum effect - and the quicksilvery bursts of repeated notes in the central episode of the second movement were beautifully handled.
But just as striking was Wang's ability, which Thomas and the orchestra suavely supported, to convey the lyricism and grace of Rachmaninoff's writing. In Wang's hands, the opening theme - a simple melody in octaves brimming with nuanced emotion and energy - sounded every bit as impressive as the finger-busting displays that ensued. For pure finger-busting, Wang delivered a stunning encore of Vladimir Horowitz's "Carmen" Variations.
Thomas and the orchestra brought their own brand of magic to the concert's first half. It began with Fauré's "Pavane," in a lovely, rhythmically sustained reading graced by a fragrant contribution from principal flutist Tim Day.
Even more alluring was the orchestra's sleek and strong-boned rendition of Sibelius' all-too-rarely heard Third Symphony. Thomas seemed intent on underscoring the work's elegance and balance without letting it subside into pure arabesque, and the orchestra followed his lead superbly.