Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at Tanglewood

“Liszt’s E-flat Major Piano Concerto has been one of Yuja Wang’s warhorses for some time. Liszt linked the three movements essentially into a single large arc, with musical ideas returning at different tempos and levels of complexity. It is a work that constantly moves between thunderous dynamics and gentle lyricism, between rapid flowing fingerwork and percussive chords, between focus on the soloist and colors in the orchestra. It was once belittled as a “triangle concerto” because Liszt chose to begin one linking passage with a dialogue between the triangle (rarely used in his day except for exotic special effects) and the piano. But little by little the work came to be accepted as a prime example of the grand Romantic spirit.

Both Wang and orchestra produced every effect that could be desired. Liszt’s dynamics can change on a dime; Wang and Nelsons seemed to be reading one another’s minds as the piano and orchestra balanced one another in quick recognition of where the line was going. When the piano needed heavy block chords, Wang impressed with the strength of her arms and fingers, and when the orchestra set up opposing blocks, her fingers swept in smooth arcs up and down the keyboard as if well oiled. She gave the effect of lifting the roof right off the Koussevitzky Music Shed.

After several recalls to the stage for both soloist and conductor, a longish delay offstage raised the question of whether she would return for an encore; but the applause showed no sign of stopping. Eventually she returned, with her characteristic big smile and low bow, and sat down to play a short piece that, if anything, sounded even more virtuosic than the concerto: Vladimir Horowitz’s arrangement of the Gypsy Song from Bizet’s Carmen. Of course it set off another wildly enthusiastic ovation.”

Classical Scene

“Wang’s playing sparkled like her green mini-dress as she alternated lightning-quick smashes, caresses, and forever trills, bouncing off keys while music director Andris Nelsons conducted as if it were general treat time. Liszt probably would have loved her. She plays encores. Friday’s was Horowitz’s Carmen Variations, at top speed and volume, with added pizzazz. (Press office says nothing was added.) She didn’t need to do that: The audience and orchestra were agog anyway, craning forward and grinning.”

Classical Voice America