Concert Review: Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Feb. 19

Jerusalem ICC: Orchestra plays mostly Rachmaninov.

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra 521 (photo credit: Yeugene/WikiCommons)
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra 521
(photo credit: Yeugene/WikiCommons)
The curtain raiser of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert this week was a short contemporary piece, Torque (2009), by Canadian Gary Kulesha (b. 1954). Consisting mainly of rhythms, percussion instruments and fragmentary melodic motifs that do not add up to melodies, it was an effective eye-opener for those who perhaps had not yet fully woken up after their afternoon siesta.
Yuja Wang, the Chinese soloist of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3, is an outstanding piano phenomenon. The initial surprise was her exquisitely soft touch right at the start – and in a Rachmaninov work, of all things. After this delicate opening, the next surprise was the fragile-looking pianist’s stormy vehemence of the subsequent typically Rachmaninovian turbulence in the work’s first, and particularly, final movements.
After these elemental outbursts, no less surprising was the playful facility of the work’s lighter passages and the brilliant virtuosity and precision of its technically demanding episodes. Another surprise was the maturity of this 24-year-old artist’s rendition of the work’s lyrical sections. This performance was an enormously exciting experience.
In Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, Canadian conductor Peter Oundjian emerged as a master of rhythm. He electrified the orchestra and, through it. the audience, with split-second accurate dotted and syncopated rhythms, waltz lilts and also, unexpectedly, some regular four-beat ones. He also excelled in eliciting abundant instrumental tone colors from solos and orchestral tutti. That the composer missed some convenient opportunities to finish this longish work before he eventually did is, of course, not the conductor’s responsibility.
After all, he only chose the work, not composed it.