A Young Pianist Highly Worth Attention
Lang Theater, Hunter College
Joseph Haydn: Sonata in E Minor, Hob. XVI.34
Johannes Brahms: Eight Klavierstücke, Op. 76
Béla Bartók: Piano Sonata, Sz. 80
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piece in D Minor – Preludes, Op. 23: 1. F-Sharp Minor & 10. G-Flat Major – Six Songs, Op. 38: 3. “Daisies” – Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 39: 8. D Minor & 9. D Major
Yi-Nuo Wang (Pianist)
Inevitable to piano festivals is the varying quality of the performances. So when one showcases a brilliant artist, one who has all the qualities that a dedicated listener craves, it is an epiphany. Such was the recital of Wednesday, July 24th by the young Chinese pianist Yi-Nuo Wang, winner of the 2018 Concert Artists Guild Grand Prize.
Ms. Wang’s playing is not new to me; I became aware of her extraordinary musicianship and pianism at last years’ International Keyboard Institute & Festival (IKIF). So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to this recital, and it exceeded expectations.
Haydn’s piano sonatas are a varied group of works – some rather classical and fleet in both texture and mood, others more serene, still others darker and serious. The E Minor sonata falls firmly into the third group – a work of measured tempestuousness. Ms. Wang exhibited complete control over its variegated sound world, and her beautiful touch and supple phrasing brought new insights. There is a moment near the end of the last movement (a rondo where each restatement of the theme is somewhat varied) where Haydn has a repeated note conclusion of the phrase; never have I heard that moment so beautifully executed and organic to the music.
Brahms piano works fall into an early period, where youthful vigor was evidenced in his sonatas and variations (up to Op. 35), and a late period, where the aforementioned aspects are replaced by an intimacy and poignancy of searing intensity (Opp. 116-119). There are only two groups of piano works between them – the Eight Pieces, Op. 76 and the Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79. In straddling the line between early and late, the Op. 76 (written primarily in 1878) present and demand a wide range of expression, and Ms. Wang displayed her expressive palette in a most compelling way: the turbulent first piece in D Minor had explosiveness coupled with poignancy, the second in B Minor capricious charm (befitting its name). Indeed, all eight pieces had their varying textures highlighted superbly. In particular, I must single out the Capriccio in C# Minor, No. 5 of the set – her approach reminded me, in its amalgamation of intensity and repose, of the seminal recording of Julius Katchen; I can tender no higher praise than a comparison to this artist, whose recording of the compete piano music I consider its apotheosis.
Bartók’s piano music is a curious lot – a strange mixture of folk and program music (often in the same piece). One could say that the Piano Sonata is among the most abstract of his piano works, frequently resulting in performances that lack beauty of sound in a misguided effort to highlight this fact. Ms. Wang took a more sensuous approach, and it was a fresh and very appealing look at this sonata; I especially liked the ruminative second movement.
When I first heard Ms. Wang about a year ago, it was her Rachmaninoff that I found especially compelling. Her way with his short works is by turn driven, poignant and mysterious as the music demands. It is not exaggerating to say that her Rachmaninoff reminds me of Horowitz – it is that unique and extraordinary. Particular to this recital, it was the inclusion of the last two Etudes-Tableaux of Op. 39 (recently added) that piqued my curiosity, as her previous Rachmaninoff group did not contain either of these Etudes. Her muted approach to the D minor (an inward and elusive utterance) was highly illuminating and serenely beautiful, and the D Major that closes the set (of nine) had the requisite rhythmic and forceful character that characterizes this most overt work of the usually contemplative composer.
I delayed writing this review upon discovering that Ms. Wang was closing the Mostly Mozart season with two pre-concert recitals; I attended the second one primarily to hear how this sensitive and intelligent musician would adapt her playing to a much larger hall. I was not surprised that the Haydn Sonata was thus played in a more bold manner in addressing that fact (the IKIF recital was in the 149 seat Lang Theater at Hunter College). Paradoxically, the Rachmaninoff “Daisies” transcription and the D minor Etude (both also played at Lang) were more subtle and effective in the larger venue (Geffen, in spite of its relatively dry acoustic, is much more sumptuous than Lang). Only the D Major Etude might have benefitted from more Horowitzian-like power; I suspect that as Ms. Wang’s career continues its ascent, she will develop the experience to gauge larger halls more effectively. Minor cavil aside, it was a stunning close to the all too brief display of this marvelous young artist.
This is a pianist to watch – do not forget the name Yi-Nuo Wang.