Saturday, October 22, 2011

Yuja Wang - Scriabin, Prokofiev & Liszt - 10/20/11

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
Prokofiev: Sonata No 6 in A Major, op. 82
Liszt: Sonata in B Minor

The young Chinese pianist Yuja Wang is hot these days, and I’m not saying that only because of the nightclub-ready look she had adopted for her concert at the Hollywood Bowl last summer, consequently creating a mini-storm in the classical music world and beyond. She has also repeatedly proven that she possesses mighty musical chops and definitely knows how to use them. Therefore, after hearing her perform Prokofiev’s first two piano concertos in Washington, DC within the past few years, I was very excited at the prospect of attending her much anticipated Carnegie Hall recital debut last Thursday evening, especially with a program including sonatas by Prokofiev (him again) and Liszt. While I enjoy concertos tremendously, I don’t think anything matches the direct connection between soloist and audience that can only happen in the hushed intimacy of a recital setting, where each note enjoys the luxury of having a life of its own and no other distractions interfere (except from the unruly members of the audience). I am apparently not the only one of that opinion because the Stern auditorium was remarkably full and obviously eager to partake in a concert likely to become a milestone.

Five short pieces from Alexander Scriabin, mixing the sweetness and the turbulence of Romantic music, aptly served as opening act. Ms. Wang, who throughout the evening effortlessly achieved the right combination of elegance and sexiness with her dark, form-fitting long dresses, immediately took charge of the proceedings and delivered a totally engaging performance.
After this lovely warm-up, it was time to move on to heavier stuff with Prokofiev’s first “war sonata”. Its nickname, however, shouldn’t be taken at full face value because if the first movement is threateningly dark and aggressively dissonant, the remaining ones are of a much more gentle nature, respectively exuding mysterious charm, appealing lyricism and virtuosic fun. Yuja Wang assuredly took everything in stride, assertively expressing the chaos of tumultuous times before moving to the other extremes with delicate nuances, eventually coming around full circle with a decisively apocalyptic conclusion. It surely sounded as if Prokofiev had found his ultimate interpreter.
Then we moved on to another composer who knew a thing or two about piano matters. Franz Liszt wrote his Sonata in B Minor, widely considered his masterpiece for solo piano, as a single 30-minute movement in which five themes are constantly forming new relationships among them. From heavenly highs to hellish lows, Yuja Wang navigated Liszt’s treacherous terrain with grace and precision, always fiercely in charge no matter how daunting the road ahead was.

The first time I saw Yuja Wang, I was equally dazzled by her mastery of Prokofiev’s first piano concerto and miffed by the lack of an encore in spite of our frenetic applause. Well, it took her about four years, but she definitely made up for it on Thursday night with not one or two, but - appropriately enough - four encores!
Staying in a Lisztian mood, she responded to our prolonged and enthusiastic ovation with his "Gretchen am Spinnrade", an intense evocation of a mind going out of control, which she deftly handled.
Next we had Dukas’ "The Sorcerer Apprentice", arranged by Ms. Wang herself. More known as the musical background for The Sorcerer Apprentice episode in Disney’s Fantasia, the work has an irresistible, diabolically playfulness that was another perfect opportunity for our soloist to display her impeccable, mesmerizing technical wizardry.
We also enjoyed a superb Romantic interlude with Gluck’s dreamy melody from Orfeo and Eurydice before finally calling it a night with a delightful "Tritsch-Tratsch" Polka by Johann Strauss Jr. If there is anything she cannot completely conquer, we were not made aware of it.

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