La Scena Musicale

Friday, 11 June 2010

TSO and YUNDI: Right Ingredients, but not Exceptional

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

Aside from the fact that one is Chinese and the other Polish, pianist YUNDI bears an uncanny likeness to the composer that made him famous — the longish hair, the effeminateness, and the pale, sad-eyed look.

And maybe because he was the first pianist in 15 years to be awarded first prize at the 2000 International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition, YUNDI has emerged as a kind of prince of Chopin; he would dazzle us with virtuosic techniques and romantic melodies.

Playing Chopin's 
E-minor Piano Concerto with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Thursday night, the 27-year-old pianist did just that. That being said, while YUNDI is a thinking pianist whose quality of playing often outweighs what he actually plays, something was missing from this performance.

He sounded tired, the orchestra followed along obediently, the piece came across fragmented, and the piano was barely audible at times. Despite some really nice moments here and there (in the second and third movements), it was a bit like watching a top chef throwing all the right ingredients into the pot and not produce a kick-ass dish.

Still, the audience showered the star pianist with standing ovation and cheers, and he returned to the stage with Chopin's 
Nocturne In E-flat major, Op. 9, No. 2. Here, YUNDI delivered pure poetry that is second to none.

The second half of the program featured the long and abstract 
Symphony No. 9 in D minor by Bruckner.

After Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin backed out of the performance due to "exceptionally heavy schedule in recent weeks, compounded by scheduling changes," Jean-Marie Zeitouni, also Canadian, took over the podium to conduct this hard-sell piece of work.

Bruckner's last and unfinished symphony is a dark, agonizing, stop-and-start piece made up of an orgy of musical motifs that are, for the most part, tonally ambiguous. Even though a string of audiences were seen leaving the auditorium throughout the performance (presumably to line up for an autograph with YUNDI), Zeitouni and the TSO gave a careful reading of the score. The sound was rich, meaty, and full of colours, especially from the winds.

Kudos to principal timpanist David Kent, whose precise strokes gave the performance its soul.

The program repeats at Roy Thomson Hall on Saturday, June 12.

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