Philharmonia: George Li and Long Yu do Russian blockbusters
The blockbuster on the title suggests that this concert was one of those intended for a full house night. And it almost got it. On the other hand, for the non casual concert goer another Rachmaninov 2nd piano concerto or another Shostakovich 5th symphony need more ingredients to make it appealing. And here the pepper and salt were a couple of respectful musicians: young American Chinese piano star George Li and the most powerful conductor in China: Long Yu.
Thing didn’t start very well. If you open a concert with Glinka overture for Ruslan and Ludmila you need to take advantage of the festive and opening mood on it. You really need to be energetic on it. Yu tried but never got into it.
For a pianist is hard to be expressive playing Rachmaninov 2nd piano concerto, as all the expressiveness is already in the score and it’s hard to get out of its boundaries. George Li didn’t take any risk resulting on a correct but empty and boring performance. Probably part of the fault came from the conductor being mechanical. During the second movement things improved a little bit and we started to feel that there was some actual playing happening, not just a recording. After it, Li played as encore played Vladimir Horowitz Carmen Variations that were probably the best thing of the night.
The second part of the concert was one of the most overrated symphonies on the 20th century. The biggest problem with Shostakovich 5th symphony comes when people take it too seriously. Long Yu started with a soft and indulgent attack on the initial canon which failed to remark the lyric melody on it. Alegretto was too serious, again like if Yu was doing a military parade on China. No signs of Shostakovich dark humor or irony. And of course no bad blood on it. The whole thing was pretty ridiculous. The last movement had energy but lacked of tension. Philharmonia strings section was not even at its best (with some strange noises coming from the double basses) but brass was quite ok.
Audience was happy with the results. Not me.