Saturday, May 19, 2018

Yuja Wang - Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Ligeti & Prokofiev - 05/17/18

Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G Minor, Op. 23, No. 5 
Rachmaninoff: Étude-tableau in C Minor, Op. 39, No. 1 
Rachmaninoff: Étude-tableau in C Minor, Op. 33, No. 3 
Rachmaninoff: Étude-tableau in B Minor, Op. 39, No. 4 
Rachmaninoff: Prelude in B Minor, Op. 32, No. 10 
Rachmaninoff: Étude-tableau in E-flat Minor, Op. 33, No. 6 
Rachmaninoff: Étude-tableau in E-flat Minor, Op. 39, No. 5 
Scriabin: Piano Sonata No. 10, Op. 70 
Ligeti: Étude No. 3, "Touches bloquées" 
Ligeti: Étude No. 9, "Vertige" 
Ligeti: Étude No. 1, "Désordre" 
Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major, Op. 84 

Last week my Met season ended with a resounding bang thanks to Russian opera superstar Anna Netrebko in Tosca, and this week my Carnegie Hall season ended with a resounding bang thanks to classical Chinese music superstar Yuja Wang in a long sold-out solo recital (even the stage was as packed as possible with clusters of chairs). As it was, her concert would also end a very exciting run of piano-centric performances by Daniil Trifonov, Leif ove Andsnes, Emanuel Ax and the Naughton sisters. So much fabulous music, so little time!
As fearless and adventurous as ever, Wang had concocted an intriguing program that included early 20th century pieces by Moscow conservatory buddies Sergei Rachmaninoff and Alexander Scriabin as well as mid-20th century pieces by Austrian-Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti and Saint Petersburg Conservatory alumni Sergei Prokofiev, all being rather proficient pianists before turning their attention to composition, a decision for which music lovers are very grateful indeed.

Yuja Wang is such a big star these days that a large part of the audience attends her concerts more to see the much buzzed-about phenomenon in the flesh (and often eye-popping outfits) than to live through an exciting musical experience. Therefore, on Thursday night, a significant portion of the audience dutifully clapped after each and every one of Rachmaninoff’s five études-tableaux and two preludes, effectively depriving the rest of us of an uninterrupted flow of the delicately evocative vignettes. There was, however, still plenty to savor as Wang was probing the generally dark, slightly hazy moods and not caring about making them sound attractive.
Sometimes described as the “Insect Sonata” because of its frequent use of trills and tremolos, Scriabin’s one-movement Piano Sonata No. 10 offers about 10 minutes of brazenly edgy yet totally accessible music. On Thursday night, Wang did not hesitate to emphasize the insistent grittiness as well as the vibrant colors of the work, running through a whole range of emotions without getting too much involved.
Next, Ligeti’s three short but fiendishly difficult studies were clearly a piece of cake for Wang, who not only easily overcame the technical challenges, but seemed to be having fun in the process too. “Vertige”, in particular, turned out to be a hypnotic stream of notes that imperceptibly dispatched a potent spell.
After an unusually long intermission, Wang was back for Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 8, which was composed during the dark times of World War II, but also during a happy time in the newly in love composer’s life, which no doubt explains its tranquil and optimistic mood. Wang did not linger much on dreaminess or romanticism though, but rather sharply focused on intensity and musicality for an imperturbably confident performance.

Beside her prodigious musical talent and bold fashion sense, Yuja Wang is also famous for being extraordinarily generous when it comes to encores. Last Thursday was no exception as she treated the ecstatic audience to no fewer than seven (seven!) thrilling party favors. It started with Mendelsohn’s Song Without Words No 2, followed by Horowitz's Carmen Variations, before moving on to Youman’s "Tea for Two", which generated quite a few chuckles from the crowd. We went back to Prokofiev with the Precipitato from his Piano Sonata No. 7, indulged in a delightful arrangement of Mozart’s "Rondo alla Turca”, before calming down with an ethereal "Mélodie" from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, and eventually wrapping things up with Schubert’s "Gretchen am Spinnrade" arranged by no less than Liszt. The only one missing seemed to be Chopin, but then again, Wang will be back at Carnegie Hall next year with her own perspectives series, so patience is the name of the game now.

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