United Kingdom Messiaen: Yuja Wang (piano), Cynthia Miller (ondes martenot), Simón Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela/Gustavo Dudamel (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, 16.1.2016. (AS)
There have been three outstanding presentations of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie in London during the last eight months – under Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Philharmonia Orchestra in May; by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under Juanjo Mena at the Proms; and in this latest performance under Gustavo Dudamel.
In each case the orchestral contribution has been of the highest class, with confident, brilliant playing, but the presence of Yuja Wang as the piano soloist ensured that this performance under review was the best of the three. Most remarkably, Pierre-Laurent Aimard played the taxing solo part from memory in Salonen’s performance, and very well too, and Steven Osborne also showed great dexterity in collaboration with Mena, but Yuja Wang’s playing was quite extraordinary, and helped very much to lift the occasion to the greatest heights.
Even though you may have seen the Yuja Wang dress style before, it’s still hard to take her seriously at first as she carefully moves on to the platform in her trademark skimpy mini-dress and matching platform Louboutin shoes with their enormously long stiletto heels. Is this just a publicity-seeking gimmick? It seems not, for this is apparently just the natural way Wang likes to present herself. But when she sits at the piano and starts to play all thoughts of how she looks are quickly banished.
She has the most phenomenal technique, and it is extraordinary how much sheer power she evokes in her playing, given her small physique. This technical excellence is harnessed to a musical instinct and intellect of the highest order. To recent London audiences she has given superlative performances of Rachmaninov and Prokofiev concertos, as well as insightful accounts of the piano parts of the Brahms violin sonatas with Leonidas Kavakos. Now she brought her exceptional qualities to Messiaen. More than before the Turangalîla-symphonie sounded like an extended piano concerto, such was the dominance of her brilliant musicianship.
None of this would have made its mark so effectively without the flair and virtuosity of the Venezuelan players or the precise, virtuoso conducting of Dudamel. The playing was flawless in execution and perfectly attuned to the nature of Messiaen’s powerful and vibrant compositional style. Dudamel and Wang seemed to have some kind of telepathic communication, such was their unanimity of ensemble and common stylistic mastery.
It is a tribute to Cynthia Miller’s skill as a performer on her idiosyncratic electronic ondes martenot instrument that the sounds emanating from it made a telling effect in the ensemble without dominating it to the unwanted degree heard in some other performances. She also made a notable contribution to the overall success of the performance, of which there were so many and consistent highlights that any specific references are unnecessary.