Mendelssohn in Verbier
Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Piano Sextet in D, Op. 110a (1824) [27:27]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25b (1831) [17:05]
Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56, “Scottish”c (1831) [39:06]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Three Movements from Petrushkad (1921) [15:51]
acdYuja Wang (piano)
aKirill Troussov (violin)
aDavid Aaron Carpenter (viola)
aMaxim Rysanov (viola)
aSol Gabetta (cello)
aLeigh Mesh (double-bass)
bcVerbier Festival Orchestra/Kurt Masur
rec. Verbier Festival, abc29 July, d1 August 2009
PCM Stereo. Dolby digital 5.1 Region 0.
IDEALE AUDIENCE 3079248 [100:00]
Taken from the sixteenth Verbier Festival, this is a remarkable
homage to the evergreen genius of Mendelssohn – with the bonus
of a stunning version of the Stravinsky Petrushka pieces.
The disc begins with the least known piece, the Op. 110 Piano
Sextet. Wang looks rather uncomfortable as she comes on stage,
and even initiates the bow before one of the viola players is
fully in place. All musicians seem to settle immediately down
to the matter at hand, though. The scoring of the sextet is
for piano, violin, two violas, cello and double-bass. Anthony
Short's booklet notes point, correctly, to the influence of
Weber here, particularly perhaps in the sparkling piano writing.
Certainly Wang is beautifully attuned to Mendelssohn's idiom,
and the counterpoint that informs the score is beautifully realised
by all players. Mendelssohn's scoring is rich, even tending
towards the Brahmsian on occasion. The wonderfully interior
Adagio is as delicate as silk, while the relatively extended
finale (8:57) has a sort of addictive energy which is most involving.
Certainly the audience thought so – whoops of joy after the
The camera angles are sometimes deliberately close, and a favourite
one seems to be to show Wang through the gap between string
players - they are arranged in front of her onstage. Certainly
one can see plenty of eye contact between the string players
- less so between Wang and her colleagues, but perhaps she wasn't
in shot when it happened. Also David Carpenter finds it difficult
to keep a smile off his face, and he keeps raising his eyebrows
to other players. Wang restricts her witticisms to her fingers;
no flirting there. Her every phrase is a delight, and she sounds
so off-the-cuff that it comes as a surprise to watch her read
the music so closely.
There is no other Mendelssohn Op. 110 on DVD, it would appear,
and this performance is a fine one.
Wang's hair is decidedly wilder in style for the piano concerto
– a seemingly meaningless comment from this reviewer, perhaps,
except to say that it matches her playing. Her sound is perhaps,
a little too shallow for the big choral moments, but the semiquaver
fluency is remarkable, and her diamond articulation fuels further
joy. Masur moulds the violas and cellos in the slow movement
to mesmeric effect – their sound is marvellously rich. Wang
is able to match their eloquence; the experience throughout
is magical. The finale is magnificently sprightly. Perhaps Wang
is a touch too dry in the opening flourishes, and a touch more
wit would be welcome on occasion from her. Still, this is a
noteworthy performance that loses little to the classic (non-visual)
accounts of Perahia, Thibaudet and Ogdon. Masur's contribution
is all one would expect from this ex-conductor of the Leipzig
Gewandhaus Orchestra, with all its links to Mendelssohn.
Masur's reading of the “Scottish” symphony is no less impressive.
He conveys the majesty of the work in tempi which unfailingly
are absolutely right. A special word is in order for the principal
clarinettist, whose solos are uniformly musical, creamily toned
and full of character. The Scherzo reveals virtuoso playing
from just about the whole band, while the Adagio's phrases seem
literally to breathe – one can follow the music's inhalations
and exhalations. The finale oozes energy.
The bonus is the Stravinsky Petrushka pieces. Having
heard Wang play this live in London, it is interesting to hear
her live in Verbier in what is rapidly becoming her signature
work. The dark lighting, complemented by her fire-red dress,
sets the atmosphere perfectly for the fireworks. Yet, for all
the keyboard virtuosity, Wang never forgets that there is the
spirit of the dance at the heart of Petrushka. Her linear
acuity seems even more heightened than Pollini (DG) in the first
piece (the “Russian Dance”), and without his emotional distancing.
The quietly buzzing atmosphere of the Shrovetide Fair is superbly
done, as is the later pianistic frenzy, an orgy of counterpoint
that, even as one hears it, seems improbable. The final chords
approaching the glissando here take on a Mussorgskian element,
something that doesn't even strike the listener with the likes
of Pollini or Kissin. The cheers and standing ovation for Wang
are the natural consequence of her playing.
Wang's Petrushka pieces are available in an audio performance
on her “Transformations” album (DG 4778795 ) - this forms a