The concert given by the WSO at Chatswood Concourse had a large audience attracted by a very popular and well thought out program. Star of the show was Avan Yu. Now resident in Berlin, the Canadian Avan won the coveted first prize in the 2012 Sydney Piano Competition as well as his native country’s Chopin Competition and has toured extensively world-wide. Among his recordings, he has won awards with Liszt’s transcriptions of Schubert song cycles.
Not only did Avan conduct two concertos from the piano, giving descriptions of works to come, he also conducted the first item, Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides, Fingal’s Cave. I have recently described my addiction to this piece, and one detects different inflexions and orchestration wonders at each hearing. As Neil McEwan informed us in his excellent pre-concert talk, even no less a critic than Wagner praised it as painting a picture of Staffa better than that of the famous oil by JMW Turner (although the same critic went on to pan Mendelssohn mercilessly in order to further his own career). The vicissitudes of the voyage, the storms, the isolation of the rock, the calmer return journey are all portrayed vividly – amazing considering that Felix was actually sea sick!
This was a great curtain raiser for Mozart’s Concerto in D minor, the first of only two he wrote in a minor key although, as Neil emphasised, he wanders frequently into the major and the work finishes triumphantly and optimistically. One wonders at how the pianist can play and conduct but Avan achieved it effortlessly while emphasising the drama and pathos of the music. He played the usual Beethoven cadenza in the first movement but played his own in the third – this was brilliant and entirely in keeping with the music (which is not always the case).
Beethoven also wrote the cadenzas for his own Piano Concerto in C, labelled the ‘first’ but actually (as with Chopin) written after the ‘second’. I thought Avan was at his best here, frequently having to juggle his sitting piano position with his hand-waving. He really brought out the relaxed reverie of the slow movement. The orchestra was always with him, the woodwinds playing accurately and Chiron Mellor on the drums having a workout in all three works.
We even had the bonus of an encore – the adagio from Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata – was this tune Elgar’s ‘Enigma’? Even the soloist won’t be able to tell us!