LSO/Roth/Wang review – Yuja Wang dazzles with Lindberg’s imposing Third Piano Concerto

“In a way, it’s the biggest piece I’ve written,” Magnus Lindberg says of his Third Piano Concerto, inspired by, and composed for Yuja Wang, who premiered it with Esa-Pekka Salonen in San Francisco last October, and has now given its first UK performances with the London Symphony Orchestra and François-Xavier Roth, first at the Barbican, then at the final classical concert of this year’s Brighton festival.

Geared to Wang’s extraordinary virtuosity, it’s an imposing, retro work, colossal in scale, monumental in tone, and self-consciously written in the tradition of the big bravura concertos of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite the abrasion of Lindberg’s harmonic language, the interplay between grand pianistic gestures and heart-on-sleeve orchestral outbursts recalls Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov, while the first movement’s immense cadenza, integral to the musical argument as well as atrociously difficult to play, carries echoes of Prokofiev’s similar methodology in his Second Piano Concerto. It’s fractionally overwritten, with an unvarying density of texture in the first two movements, though the monochrome orchestral palette becomes more coloured for the finale, where melodic contours suggestive of Gershwin and Ravel add touches of Hollywood glamour and Parisian chic.

As a star vehicle it’s extremely effective, and Wang played it with all the prowess and allure one might expect, formidable both in her negotiation of the work’s technical challenges and her response to its dynamic and emotional range, while Roth shaped its contours with admirable drama and energy. When it was over, Wang returned to the platform to give us Cyprien Katsaris’s transcription of the Badinerie from Bach’s Second Orchestral Suite as one of her encores, exquisite in its dexterity and finesse.

Roth was very much in his element, meanwhile, in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, which came after the interval – an interpretation of great integrity and subtlety, swift without ever once seeming hectored, the overriding sense of wonder at the beauties of nature deeply felt yet understated, and attaining genuine sublimity both at the close of the first movement and in the glorious Shepherd’s Song of thanksgiving after the storm with which the symphony ends.