Two views of Yuja Wang: In performance...
Breathtaking Wang delivers in DC recital
by Joe Banno
It will be a very long time before Washington audiences hear a more riveting performance of Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 6 than the one Yuja Wang gave at her WPAS recital Saturday at the Sixth and I Synagogue. Quivering and sparking as if electricity had been shot through it, the sonata began and ended with playing of steely precision and pulverizing attack. But Wang lightened her touch and calibrated her dynamics enough in the second movement to tease out its wry humor and elfin mischief, and she brought a brooding concentration to the slow movement without reducing the performance's charged atmosphere by a single volt.
(read more after the jump)
In a world of showboating conservatory-fresh virtuosos, calling this 23-year-old Chinese phenom a firebrand would mean nothing special. But beyond the sheer spectacle of all that galvanic power coming from a waifishly slender young woman with a shaggy mane of model hair and club-kid threads, there are the more enduring qualities in evidence of a sharp musical mind and a poetic soul. Scriabin's Poème in F-sharp, Op. 32, No. 1, was as diaphanous and lovingly phrased on Saturday's program as that composer's G-sharp Minor Etude, Op. 8, No. 9, was coruscating. And in three Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs, the urgent vocal lines were always clear and shapely, most notably in a vividly dramatic "Der Erlkönig."
Throughout the evening, the two names that kept coming to mind were Vladimir Horowitz and Martha Argerich -- both of them, like Wang, known for the emotional volatility of their readings, as well as a speed and dexterity that turns pianism into an extreme sport. (One of Wang's encores -- Gyorgy Cziffra's loopy deconstruction of Johann Strauss's "Tritsch-Tratsch" Polka -- was so stunningly virtuosic, I still can't quite believe what I heard.) I'm sure that for some, Wang's reading of Schumann's Symphonic Études could have traded more on autumnal warmth and classical restraint. But this is a young composer's score, and this pianist -- allowing for some brittleness and overeager pedaling in the work's more manic movements -- mined its exuberant spirit while doing an unusually fine job of revealing its architectural shape.
Wang is a pianist of rare gifts. But in this age of instant access, you can judge her for yourself: Check out the YouTube videos of her playing the Liszt/Schubert, the Cziffra and the finale of the Prokofiev. I dare you not to click "Replay."
-- Joe Banno
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