Just as China excels in certain sports, so there are certain disciplines in which young Chinese musicians have risen to the top. The piano is the most obvious. Pianists Lang Lang and Yundi arrived on the international circuit early in the 2000s and more recently they have been joined by Yuja Wang, who looks set to grace just as many CD covers.
To many piano aficionados Wang is a more interesting performer than either of her (slightly) older compatriots. In her mid-twenties, she first appeared with the London Symphony Orchestra in the 2009/10 season and is now the subject of an “Artist Portrait” series of three concerts and a recital. After that she will be going on tour with the LSO to south-east Asia.
The concerts will include showpiece concertos by Prokofiev and Rachmaninov, but she chose to start more modestly with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Jaap van Zweden, one of three conductors for the series, started out unpromisingly with big-orchestra Beethoven that was soggy and heavy, and then Wang entered from the other side of the ring, all energy, clarity and brightness. In the slow movement, where pianists as diverse as Mitsuko Uchida and András Schiff have communed inwardly with the early spirit of romanticism, she remained brittle and bright. It was only in the finale that the dextrous fingers also found a characterful sparkle and humour. The closing rush to the end was quite exhilarating.
No appearance by Wang can pass without some comment on her evening wear – the 2011 “Hollywood Bowl” dress must have launched as many headlines as Helen of Troy did ships – so here is a simple question. How ever does she manage to use the pedals when she is wearing stiletto heels as elegantly spindly as these?
The single other work on the programme was Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2. Van Zweden directed an LSO on mostly good form in a performance that pulsated with drama and would have been thoroughly involving, if only the Barbican acoustic had not been at its most depressing. Get a big orchestra on stage here and the sound is horribly middle-heavy and congested, like a tubby man trying to force his way through a narrow doorway. Anywhere else would be better.