The Most Exciting Concert Week of the Season?

By Sedgwick Clark

I’ve been a parsimonious blogger this season. But the coming week in New York City concert halls has brought out the town crier in me. The week is bookended by performances of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata by two pianists I never expected to hear ascend this Everest of the keyboard: Murray Perahia at Lincoln Center’s Geffen Hall on Sunday the 8th at 3:00 and Yuja Wang at Carnegie Hall on the following Saturday the 14th at 8:00. In between, at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday the 11th, Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra in the first Mahler symphony I ever heard, the Tenth, in Eugene Ormandy’s impassioned 1965 recording with this very orchestra.

In the past, Perahia has been hesitant to tackle such huge virtuoso piano works because some critics have branded his playing “small scale.” But his performance of the Appassionata some years ago at Carnegie was one of the best I’ve heard—quite different than the hair-raisingly aggressive Richter recording yet no less satisfying interpretively. One could imagine a sublimely musical Liszt Sonata from Perahia as well. But one shouldn’t be greedy: I can’t wait to hear how he renders the Hammerklavier’s slow movement, in particular.

Yuja Wang is walking an entirely different tightrope. A lioness of the keyboard, she has specialized in finger-busting repertoire by Scriabin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Messiaen—the flashier the better. Until now, she has studiously avoided the German classics. Evidently, however, the 29-year old has decided that it’s time to test her mettle in an altogether “serious” program, which Deutsche Grammophon will surely record for video and CD release, of two Brahms Ballades, Schumann’s Kreisleriana, and the Hammerklavier. Will she muster the depth as well as her accustomed dexterity? The answer is what keeps us returning to the traditional repertoire. I wouldn’t miss it.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) succumbed to a heart condition before he could finish his Tenth Symphony. For over 50 years it was known solely by its only completed movement, its first. Mahler had sketched out four other movements, however, and several musicologists have tried their hands at “completing” the work. The British musicologist and critic Deryck Cooke was the first to succeed in fashioning what he called a “performing version.” It remains the best, actually sounding like Mahler throughout, where his successors succumbed to modernized harmonies and fanciful orchestration. Nézet-Séguin wisely leads the Cooke version. The concert begins with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Lang Lang certain to make a meal of the young composer’s bravura piano writing.

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