La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Lang Lang and Schleswig-Holstein Orchestra Wow Toronto

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh


If the performance quality of a group of young musicians making their North American debut tour is any indication, classical music is in good hands. On April 6, a near sold-out Roy Thomson Hall erupted for conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra in a program that would appeal to any classical music novice.

Founded by Leonard Bernstein, the Germany-based Schleswig-Holstein trains in the 19th-century Salzau Castle north of Hamburg. It consists of musicians under the age of 27 handpicked through a rigorous auditioning process.

Opening the program with Prokofiev’s Symphony # 1 (the Classical Symphony), Eschenbach, who conducted by memory, got the most out of the players in every quip and quirk. Although the orchestra was not always in synch, the symphony came across fresh and dynamic. The vivace finale was incredibly fast and precise, it was stunning.

The main draw of the night was Mozart’s Piano Concerto # 17 in G major, featuring 28-year-old pianist Lang Lang. It was Eschenbach who gave Lang his now-legendary debut at the Ravinia Festival in 1999.

Lang is a powerhouse. He likes to show off his impeccable skills and does so with drama and flair. In this dreamy and bubbly Mozart concerto, Lang romanced each and every note and rest, soaking up the sound, eyes closed, while his left hand conducted above the keys. It was Mozart with a bit of a Chopin treatment in the styling of phrasings. However, with little use of the pedal, the sound was crystal crisp, the turns articulated clearly, and his soft melodies just about killed it.

The standing crowd insisted on an encore and received Chopin’s Aeolian Harp Etude, Op. 25, No. 1 after many bows from Lang. He played through the massive web of arpeggiated chords in one breath and with total control — it was beyond words.

After intermission, Eschenbach and the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra gave a riveting performance of Beethoven’s Symphony # 7. The orchestra excelled here, especially in the famous slow movement markedallegretto. Eschenbach took the tempo at adagio and produced a solemn effect that is in perfect contrast to the subsequent presto and allegro con bio.

For encore, they played the overture of Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus to more standing applause, causing one man to shout, “Sit down!”

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