And indeed, there were similarities between the Bartók and the Prokofiev. In both, Wang favoured a light, dexterous touch, and a tone that was bright and penetrating when it needed to be. Wang’s Bartók performance opened with a lively first movement; there was a spiritual simplicity in the second; and just a touch of bravura in the third. She pleaded the concerto’s case well, and didn’t try to make it into something that it isn’t. And for that reason, I believe, she was warmly applauded by the audience.
But if people came for the soloist, they stayed for the conductor. Throughout the concerto, Krzysztof Urbański followed Wang’s lead, allowing it to be very much “her” concerto. Yet in the two purely orchestral works he led – Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 and Dvořák’s New World Symphony – it was clear that this young maestro (he just turned 34) was out to make these pieces his own.
This was Urbański’s second engagement with the TSO, and he’s evidently developing a strong rapport with the orchestra, with the musicians responding to his balletic conducting technique. In Peer Gynt, he drew a lush, fulsome sound from the strings, and carefully controlled the gradual accelerando in “The Hall of the Mountain King.”
However, it was in the New World Symphony (which Urbański led from memory) that he really had the opportunity to show what he can do. It was clear from the outset that unabashed drama and a stylish Mittel-European sensibility ranked high among the conductor’s goals – and once again, his communicative skills had a strong effect on the TSO.
Thanks to this chemistry, the orchestra’s performance was many things: subtle, robust, fluid, solid, serene, energetic, languid, furious – yet always balanced, controlled and purposeful. As well, Cary Ebli’s English horn solo in the second movement was a thing of beauty.
Music Director Peter Oundjian’s departure is still a couple of years away, but throughout this season and the next, the TSO (and its audiences) will be eyeing its guest conductors with a critical gaze. I have no idea if Urbański is interested in the job – he’s a busy man, with orchestral positions in Indianapolis, Trondheim and Hamburg – but if he is, I hope the TSO is also interested in him. Like any young conductor, he has things to learn. But his rapport with the orchestra is promising, and has already produced musical dividends.
© Colin Eatock 2016