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Masterly Performance by Youthful Violinist

Hong Kong
Sha Tin Town Hall Auditorium, Sha Tin
10/02/2008 -  & October 4*
Sergei Prokofiev: Classical Symphony, Op 25 – Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op 63 – Peter and the Wolf, Op 67

Yang Tian-wa (Violin)
Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Yip Wing-sie (Conductor)

Yang Tian-wa (© Heiko Rogge)

Obviously, the four-concert Peter and Wolf series by Hong Kong Sinfonietta targets children and family. Perhaps this is the reason for inviting young soloists like Yang Tian-wa to perform in Thursday’s and tonight’s concerts. This name may sound unfamiliar to most Hong Kong concertgoers, but Yang Tian-wa, who is merely 21 years old, has already established her reputation as a violin virtuoso in recent years. I underscore the word ‘virtuoso’ because she is the youngest violinist (at age 13) to record the cycle of Paganini’s 24 Caprices, and she has been working on a massive project of recording Sarasate’s complete violin works for Naxos, with two CDs out of seven already released and another two just finished recording last month.

This evening, Yang Tian-wa did not disappoint the audience by giving a technically impeccable and, at the same time, musically thoughtful rendition of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto. The demanding technical hurdles in this piece were overcome without stress and concession; hardly a note went out of place. Her tone was rich in the low register and penetrating in the high register. The first movement was opened by an unaccompanied solo violin theme, with Yang showing off her colorful vibrato and profound, viola-like intonation. A more silken and creamy tone quality in the second theme successfully captured the tender and lyrical side of this contrasting melody. However, the burbled and slurred horns somehow destroyed the rapt expressivity of this enchanting passage. The remotely modulating development was a full display of Yang’s dazzling sparks and athletic vigor. The technical challenges simply disappeared and sublimated beneath her powerful chords and glinting high notes. Although there was occasional scratchy sound from her over-aggressive double-stops, they were generally played with extreme evenness and clarity.

The second movement was introduced with a rather heavy and stiff accompaniment by clarinet and string pizzicatos. In contrast, the soloist entered the serene melody with whispering pianissimo, convincingly bringing out the singing quality and moving beauty of this tune. The cantabile theme was presented with her wide and warm vibrato, even at the highest range. The final movement was a characterful and exuberant account, sensitively capturing the rural sense of this peasant dance. Yang brought Prokofiev’s semantics up to the surface via a bewitching range of subtle articulation and agogic accent. The clarity and transparency in the most complex and demanding passages and the brittle aspects fully displayed her immaculate control of the bow. Despite two flubbed entrances of the castanet, the orchestra, under the superb leadership by guest concertmaster Natsuko Yoshimoto, provided a sympathetic and supportive accompaniment. One of my minor reservations about this otherwise fine interpretation was her lack of sonority change in different keys and sections. Yang’s tellingly romanticized expressiveness and her slight overuse of it sometimes led to boredom, sacrificing Prokofiev’s charming modulations and tonal interest. Moreover, her extraneous gestures – the gliding foot, bending knees, together with her deep red skirt – came as a visual distraction to the performance.

Being only 21 years of age, Yang Tian-wa still has much room to better equip herself before she reaches her full maturity. With her extraordinary command of the instrument and impeccable virtuosity, she has the potential of becoming a recognized violinist of our generation. We are looking forward to hearing a more musically mature and honest virtuoso’s playing.

Besides this violin concerto, there were two more works by Prokofiev in this evening’s concert. His “Classical” Symphony – the opening piece of the concert – and his Peter and the Wolf – the second half – are among the composer’s most popular and welcomed repertoire, especially by children. Despite HK Sinfonietta’s rough-edged interpretation and distressing orchestral balance, these two works served the educational purposes perfectly. Conductor Yip Wing-sie’s introduction speech prior to these works successfully created interaction and attracted the attention of young audience. The Peter and the Wolf, ideally fitted the animation, bringing fears and laughter to children and teenagers. The Sinfonietta’s effort to bring classical music closer to the community was rewarded and recognized by the audience’s enthusiastic ovation at the end.

Danny Kim-Nam Hui



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