So how would I rate Andrea Lucchesini as a pianist, based on his performance with the Utah Symphony Friday in Symphony Hall? Actually he didn't make it - a knee injury, they said. Which means I would have to emulate Gen. Schwarzkopf and answer, "Ha!"
Meaning Korean-born pianist Seung-Un Ha, who in Lucchesini's place delivered herself of a sterling performance of Chopin's Concerto in E minor, labeled No. 1, but in fact No. 2.At least it stands as the most impressive sample of her work I have heard to date, adding to the graceful lyricism I commented on in her solo outing with the Mormon Youth Symphony back in 1984 a purposeful brilliance that nonetheless never compromised the music's singing quality.
In fact with its glittering filigrees and easy shaping of phrases the first movement positively glistened, followed by a Romanze of unusual fluidity and strength. After which the finale, a sparklingly projected krakowiak, was as impressive for the pianist's underlining of the rocking rhythms as for its sheer technical display.
Supporting her on the podium was the Indonesian conductor Jahja Ling, likewise making his Utah Symphony debut. And while that support sometimes bordered on the bloated - for example, the overly portentious orchestral introduction and thuddy tuttis in the finale - the sound he drew from the orchestra was appropriately regal, even if he did not always keep things moving as sharply as the soloist.
By the same token the piece with which he opened the evening, the Toccata Concertante of American composer Irving Fine, might also have been a bit leaner and meaner in spots, befitting its neoclassically Stravinskian air. Indeed at times the conductor seemed at pains to underline the music's romantic elements, with a weightiness that did not always seem appropriate.
Where both he and that approach came into their own, however, was in the Sibelius Second Symphony, which followed intermission.
Again, from the first one sensed a certain heaviness, especially in something like the deliberate treatment of the second subject. But that was coupled with a strength and conviction that carried the listener through the first two movements, with their darkly ruminative lower voices, to the steely dash of the scherzo and a finale of remarkable power.
Even here I don't know that I'd have minded a tighter rein on the orchestra, particularly the brass. But the low-string pizzicati could hardly have registered more tellingly. Ditto the solidly controlled timpani strokes.
Which resulted in the second standing ovation of the evening (the first had been for the Chopin), and a reminder that, although none of this is music one associates with the Orient, on this occasion the sun rose in the east. And in the case of the Sibelius, the midnight sun at that.
- REPEAT PERFORMANCE: Murray Perahia's wonderfully poetic pairing of the two Chopin concertos, on Sony Classical, now joins Pollini (EMI), Zimerman , Rubinstein (RCA) and Lipatti (EMI) at the top of my list for the E minor Concerto.
By contrast it is older issues that dominate the Sibelius Second list, specifically the CD incarnations of the tautly driven Szell (Philips) and uniquely exciting Beecham (EMI) performances, followed by the all-digital versions of Gibson (Chandos) and Jaervi (Bis). I still wouldn't mind seeing Koussevitzky's reissued, however.