Last night, I heard Conrad Tao perform in the last of his three nights of concerts with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra under Carl St.Clair at Segerstrom Hall, Costa Mesa. Among works by Sibelius and Tchaikovsky, He performed Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, and then played two encores: the Precipitato third movement from Prokofiev’s 7th Sonata, and then Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G-Sharp Minor.
The awesome friend with whom I went shared my exact same sentiments. The first thing I told her was that I want to hear him play on a REAL piano, because whatever that thing was (probably a nauseating Steinway) gave him a terribly mushy sound that did not cut through the orchestra at all. Especially in the third movement, we could see him playing yet could not hear him — literally, at all — while the orchestra wasn’t playing at its loudest. My friend suspected the hall’s poor acoustic design, which may also have been a factor.
The Grieg overall was somewhat boring; I felt Carl St.Clair took especially the first movement at a speed that killed the sense of recapitulation; it was difficult to maintain attention of the long lines to hear the whole macroscopic form of the piece with ease.
The piano wasn’t bright at all, especially in the upper registers, where it was really necessary for the Prokofiev; there were no climaxes in the Prokofiev. It wasn’t flat in dynamics, but it just had no real growth to clear points, and any dramatic drops to piano as is sorely needed for such a relentless toccata of a work were just nonexistent. He hardly made any mistakes in all his pieces, but it’s too bad that he didn’t adjust to the piano and try to make more of a piano sound (unless that’s just how bad the piano and/or hall were/was) to compensate for its complete absence of cutting/slicing/biting/pinging brightness.
Now, the Rachmaninoff prelude was glorious. We both loved it; I enjoyed his voicing and rubato management and mournful feel, though I think I felt I could have had a bit more of the deep bass at times. His nice scherzando end, to which the audience chuckled, gave good closure to the performance.
What I learned the most from was the way he carried his attack. He was quite relaxed all the way through because he always used his body for strength, not his hands or even arms; he threw all the weight of his body into his fingers, strong yet nimble things they were. And boy, did he take advantage it! Stamping his foot to the third movement’s Norwegian waltz-coda? WOW, that was loud and immature. And he continually brought his head literally within a foot of his hands plenty of times, only to swiftly propel himself back with an artificial, too-slick/-smooth recoil, only to repeat it in the next second or two.
Well, that was a great night (also for other personal reasons). Otherwise, the motet and toccata are seeing work done, primarily, but scantly—more so preparation for another competition and buying the equipment to create a great DVD for its audition round. Hm, free time? What’s that? quoth the musician.