On Friday evening, had the pleasure of watching Leeds Conductors Competition winner Alexander Shelley conduct the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in Liszt's Prometheus and Hamlet, Strauss' Don Juan, Op. 20, and last but not least, Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto no.3 played by Steven Hough.
The first half of the evening, comprising Prometheus, Don Juan and Hamlet, gave Shelley three diverse canvases on which to showcase his talents. All three were new pieces to me, and conducting is an art I'm similarly not all too familiar with -- the nuances each conductor imparts in a piece is something I haven't been able to tease out yet. All the same, I found Don Juan to be particularly riveting. The rise and fall of the music were truly emotive, every chapter of the story engagingly and suspensefully told. I suppose experience will be able to tell me where the paper composition ends, and the conductor's interpretation begins -- and for now my review is superficial.
Rach's Piano Concerto though is a piece I'm very familiar with -- definitely one of my favorites and the purpose of my visit that evening. Steven Hough is likewise one of my favorite pianists (immature though the list is as yet). I had the pleasure of seeing him once before, and found I had a penchant for his gentle keystrokes -- this way of hitting the keys that seems like he's more stroking a cat. And so I was hoping for him to bring a measured, pensive approach to Rach 3, but instead found his interpretation to be surprisingly rushed. Because of the speed, the notes seemed to carelessly tumble over one another, to the extent that the piano was at times out of sync with the orchestra, and really quite cacophonous. His playing was no doubt technically impeccable, but I found the musicality to be quite lacking. Perhaps it was where I was sitting, but the orchestration did not suit me well either -- much-loved intricacies of the background winds and strings were often lost to an overpowering piano.
Oh well. I think this one does come down to personal taste, and too much familiarity with the slower versions I usually hear. I have heard Rachmaninov preferred it to be fast, and will soon make my way to YouTube to listen to his original rendition again. But I can't help but wonder how the magnificent crescendo about 8 minutes into the first movement is meant to be anything but grandiose, careful, and generously epic -- instead of over too soon.