Orchestra of the Swan and Lauren Zhang

SOME WELL-MEANT ADVICE

ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN
Stratford Play House ***
This is difficult, but these remarks are well-meant, and I hope constructive. Lauren Zhang is a brilliant pianist, more than able to play the notes of every work she tackles (her Prokofiev Second Piano Concerto with the CBSO which won her the BBC Young Musician accolade a couple of years ago was jaw-dropping). She has a wide dynamic range, and a fluency and muscle-memory which are truly enviable.
Her performance of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with the Orchestra of the Swan was technically remarkable, but there were aspects of her presentation, however, which now need urgent attention. This account came over as aloof, the soloist engaging not at all with the orchestral players (it is always so heartening to see the soloist turning to savour orchestral tuttis), nor with the audience.
A soloist should own the audience, not keep them at arm's-length, and however much the packed audience applauded Zhang's skills, that seemed more a tribute to her technique rather than to any sense of gratitude for having been embraced into this great work. Her encore (the opening movement of Beethoven's A major Sonata, Op. 101) could have been better chosen, providing more of a contrast in mood.
OOTS contributed some effective details, not least the violas at the beginning of an otherwise uninvolving Adagio, and the assiduous timpani shadowing the pianist as the finale drew to its close.
The Beethoven was framed by two Schumann works, the rare Genoveva Overture, and the Second Symphony. Orchestral chording was sometimes imprecise under Lai (especially at the portentous opening of the symphony, and again towards the end), but highlights were the sparkling string playing in the symphony's famous Classic FM scherzo, and the empathy shared by the woodwind, eloquent oboe to the fore.
OOTS are giving this programme at various venues throughout the week. I am sure the acoustics elsewhere will make the orchestra sound better than just worthy, as it unfortunately emerged in the tinny ambience here.
Christopher Morley

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