THE absolute star of the RSNO's exciting and intriguing programme on Saturday night, in the second part of the American Festival devised by RSNO music director Peter Oundjian, was the electrifying Chinese pianist Xiayin Wang.
I have seldom heard anything so attention-grabbing and commanding as her explosive opening to Samuel Barber's Piano Concerto. It was like a banner headline, proclaiming not just the pianist's own extraordinary technical prowess, but the character and quality of the work she was about to perform.
Her grip on it never slipped. I've heard it before, but only on record. If I've heard it live I don't recall: I don't think Marin Alsop did it live in her RSNO days. It is dramatic, punchy and pugnacious, with the pianist the central dramatic character in a sweeping orchestral canvas, coloured and varied by Barber's irresistible lyrical strand. It is a wonderful piece, totally fresh in this invigorating performance.
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And then she moved on to Aaron Copland's Piano Concerto and yet more revelations in a little-played piece where the composer picked up the DNA and all salient elements of jazz, made them his own, and produced this dazzling mini-concerto, from which Xiayin Wang, a magician of the idiom, conjured a seductive, sexy jazz canvas. With Peter Oundjian at his most clear and incisive, the RSNO laid down apposite accompaniments to the concertos, while around these he conducted of Copland's Appalachian Spring (quintessential Americana) and John Adams's Doctor Atomic Symphony, about which I have some reservations; but a good night for the band and two little-known concertos.