Arts & Culture

Review: Pianist David Fung spices up a subdued Symphony Tacoma

Pianist David Fung.
Pianist David Fung. Courtesy

Maybe it was the Rialto Theater — suddenly live and demanding crisper vivacity than their usual Pantages home. Or maybe it was a reduced Mozart orchestra, something they’re not famous for. Whatever the case, Symphony Tacoma produced a concert Saturday night that went quickly from lush to lackluster, only spicing up at the end thanks to a witty combination of pianist David Fung and Beethoven.

The lush came at the beginning with Fauré’s “Pavane,” an oft-heard gem, but this time with chorus added. Ranged along the side aisles, the Symphony Tacoma Voices were soft but clear, adding a richness to the famous flute melody and lyrical clarinet and bassoon.

But then came the Mozart: Symphony No. 29, which began tentatively and continued with a blurry articulation, pedestrian emphasis and dragging cellos instead of the forward, exciting work it could be. The violin line of rising octaves which should have been hovering with suspense was instead careful, and the second movement was lumbering, with many missed musical opportunities (a sudden echo here, an upturned phrase there). Clearly director Sarah Ioannides is most comfortable with sweeping Romantic works like the Fauré and the superbly luminescent Mahler Adagietto that followed, because she gave the Mozart a serious, reading-the-score approach that this orchestra only too willingly follows. Only the swinging gallop of the fourth movement, with excellent violin runs and a spirited final unison saved the work’s energy.

Not so Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, saved for last (a staging issue, probably) and definitely the best. A substitute for Kuok-Wai Lio, Fung doesn’t make a big sound, but his wit and vivacity more than compensate. Sudden switches to piano, luxurious triplets, playful staccato runs that tiptoed into nothing made the first movement a joy, with the orchestra handling Beethoven’s mood swings with style. In the second movement, Fung gave his melodies an aching nostalgia, barely there, with a long pedal resonance that hinted at the Romanticism that was to come to Beethoven’s Vienna in the form of Gustav Mahler. A sweet oboe played lyrically over clouds of piano arpeggios into a spellbinding dialogue. The finale was another gallop, with Fung dancing his heels with glee and alternating quicksilver runs with comic pauses.

A Scarlatti sonata made an odd choice of encore, but showcased Fung’s highly original musicality.

Symphony Tacoma plays next April 22 with “Symphony Sweethearts” at the Pantages Theater. 253-272-7264, symphonytacoma.org.

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

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