UTAH SYMPHONY, PIANIST ILYA YAKUSHEV, Abravanel Hall, Feb. 27, additional performance Feb. 28.
Olga Kern was slated to return to Salt Lake City this weekend to play Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto with the Utah Symphony and Keith Lockhart. Unfortunately she had to cancel her engagement this week due to illness in her family.
In her stead, Ilya Yakushev was brought in to play the Prokofiev. This was his local debut, and hopefully it won't be his last time here.
Prokofiev created an incredibly radiant and effusive work that is a wonderful showpiece, not only for the soloist but also for the orchestra, and Yakushev made the bravura passages, of which there are many here, look easy. He is a remarkable pianist with impeccable technique. And while much of the piano writing is percussive, particularly in the outer movements, Yakushev still managed to find the lyricism that infuses this music and which is too often overlooked by pianists. His reading was refreshingly expressive yet forceful. His phrases were crisp, and he brought a precision to his playing that this music demands. His interpretation was vibrant, electrifying and utterly compelling.
And Lockhart matched the soloist's approach rather well. Theirs was a finely balanced collaboration that allowed Yakushev free rein and allowed him to stand out and dominate the proceedings.
Bartok's "The Miraculous Mandarin" is the major work on this weekend's program. A forcefully compelling score, it deserves to be played much more frequently than it actually is. Wonderfully descriptive and evocative, it truly is a showcase for the orchestra with its many solos. And the orchestra played it magnificently. Theirs was an articulate and dynamic performance, well-executed with clean lines and well-delineated phrasings.
Lockhart brought out the vibrant colors of the score, and his reading was fluid and cohesive. It's a loud work, with busy brass and percussion sections, but to his credit Lockhart showed restraint and let the music, in fact, speak for itself.
The concert opened with Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta."
Lockhart easily captured the many moods and colorations of this piece. The opening section was wonderfully sensuous, and the entire work was played with passion and beautifully crafted expressiveness.