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Lukáš Vondráček Upstages a Dance-Dominated Charlotte Symphony Concert with Dazzling Febrile Intensity

Jan 28, 2019

With no fewer than four recordings in my CD collection, the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 in C is a favorite of mine. What sounds blissfully familiar to me, however, may have struck subscribers as pleasantly exotic and surprisingly accessible. My previous review of a local performance of the piece dates back to 1999 when the guest soloist was Christopher O'Riley, whom I could fault only for making his solos sound too lucid and cohesive. Vondráček's account had more of the wildness and spontaneity I crave, without sacrificing Prokofiev's seductiveness when it was called for.

Warren-Green and his orchestra were wonderfully attuned to the charms and colors of this piece. Each of the three movements makes an almost instant impression. There's an enticingly lyrical intro to the opening Andante-Allegro that called forth some beautiful playing from the woodwinds before they accelerated into the propulsive entrance from the keyboard. Among the perks of this live performance was getting to hear the castanets, usually obscured on recordings, behind the fury of Vondráček's playing. They spice up the movement until the very end. Another perk was watching Vondráček's two-fisted attacks on the keyboard, projected on a large screen over the orchestra from a live overhead camera feed, during the majestic build-ups that circled us back to the piano's opening exclamation. Watching both hands flying in-sync over the keys added to the drama.

The flutes, echoed by the bassoons, were especially piquant in the languid opening to the Andantino middle movement. Vondráček deepened the spell, adding layer upon layer of mystery, though here the systolic shuttling between lyrical and raucous episodes with slow and fast tempos was far more sharply contrasted. The last excursion was such a wild ride that listeners could be forgiven for assuming that we had moved on to the final movement, but the dense orchestral accompaniment to Vondráček's climactic outburst suddenly evaporated, and the sweet flutes returned with their original theme. When it came, the final Allegro ma non troppo brought us Vondráček's most rhapsodic playing, alternating with some of his most febrile immersions. The pianist might be limping along one moment and trilling furiously moments later until a final frantic cadenza left the audience breathless and jumping to their feet.

By Perry Tannenbaum, CVNC

Read the full review here.