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Musical Essence

New York
Perleman Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
10/20/2011 -  
Alexander Scriabin: Prelude in B Major, Op. 11, No. 11 – Prelude in B Minor, Op. 13, No. 6 – Prelude in G-sharp Minor, Op. 11, No. 12 – Etude in G-sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 9 – Poème in F-sharp Major, Op. 32, No. 1
Serge Prokofiev: Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82
Franz Liszt: Sonata in B Minor

Yuja Wang (Pianist)

Y. Wang (© Peter Adamic)

Yuja Wang produced such a brilliant, original, and absolutely unforgettable recital last night that one hesitates to mention specific moments. Nonetheless, part of Liszt’s B Minor Sonata was emblematic of her prowess.

Specifically, the 24-year-old artist started the fugue with one majestic line, played the second line with a sweeter more lyrical tone, continued with the third repetition of the theme with a heldentenor heroism, and continued this fugue with each voice held intact to its character.

Yet so sculptured, so mesmerizing was the entire performance, so deftly did she transform the themes in and out of their dramatic roles, that one feels guilty choosing a particular moment. For Yuja Wang, I feel, is not a force of nature–which signifies simply whirlwind playing–but a force of musical shape, velocity and, above all, clarity.

Such clarity was evident in the five early Scriabin pieces. Outside of the Poème, this music hardly forecast the mystical paradoxical Scriabin, and could have been Chopin redux. Thus, for the B Major and G-Sharp Minor preludes, Ms Wang could have been playing newly-discovered Chopin nocturnes. A controlled tranquility, a soft singing tone, melodic seductions. Each work had a contrast, though, in thundering–never blustering–preludes and etudes, each ending quietly, each a jewel on its own.

One had to compare the Prokofiev Sixth Sonata with another Wang, Xiayin Wang, who nimbly essayed the Third Piano Concerto earlier this week. Nothing was nimble about Yuja Wang’s performance. The first movement was taken at a strict 4/4 pace, with that quirky three-note motif, transformed from signal to alarm, binding it together. The second movement was not completely jaunty, but stung at times, and the slow waltz of the third movement was free and relaxed. The finale was played with all the zeal necessary, ending, somehow inevitably, with the quirky opening figure.

One inevitably must compare Ms. Wang to Lang Lang, as both are products of the “new” China, both are virtuosos, and both studied with Gary Graffman. Lang Lang can offer the most beautiful, luscious playing, but he is never far from either becoming vulgar on the verge of showmanship. Only once, in an encore, did one feel that Yuja Wang was showing off those dextrous digits, but that the music–and her emotional relationship with the music–came first. (That exception was in a madly fast arrangement of Poet and Peasant Overture, but encore kitsch is acceptable).

Ms. Wang’s virtuosity is frankly unbelievable–mainly because she uses it as a tool, not for virtuosity in itself.

In the Liszt B Minor Sonata, Ms. Wang played far far differently than 99 percent of young pianists these days. She played it with warmth, with accents on the rich harmonies, on the connecting motives, on a complete one-movement work.

One usually leaves the Liszt breathless from the excitement. But Liszt composed this not as a showpiece, but a philosophical study in life and transformation. Ms. Wang played it as a complex but undeniable homage to feeling and emotion.

After this, was one ready for encores? Yuja Wang’s playing is too gorgeous to stand on principle. She deftly took Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel, Rachmaninoff’s arrangement of Gluck’s melody, that unknown arrangement of the Von Suppé overture–and her own brilliant piano arrangement of Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

The recital (what a petty word for such a revolutionary evening) was a testament to Yuja Wang’s passion, intelligence and, above all, integrity. She must come back here over and over again. And again. For the Carnegie Hall audience last night was, at the end, not appreciative in the usual way. They were transformed.

Harry Rolnick



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