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Two views of Yuja Wang: In performance...

Web-only review:

Breathtaking Wang delivers in DC recital
by Joe Banno


Yuja Wang.

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

By Anne Midgette  |  May 24, 2010; 6:05 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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Comments

Excellent review, Joe, and thanks for identifying the Strauss encore. But why wasn't this review of an exciting recital by a major young artist actually in the newspaper?

Posted by: geranuk | May 24, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I agree with all of the above comments (also the fine IONARTS review of Charles Downey). Ms. Wang did give a stunning performance of both the Schumann opus and the Prokofiev Sixth Piano Sonata. The name "a younger and meaner Martha Argerich" certainly did come to mind, esp. since I remember watching a riveting YouTube performance which Ms. Argerich made of the breathless finale of the Prokofiev Seventh Piano Sonata. And Ms Wang's pyrotechnics in the Stravinsky "Petrouchka" excerpt also reminded me of a precious childhood memory - the time I hitched a ride to Kansas City, Mo. as a high school student, to hear my idol, Artur Rubenstein, play the entire "Petrouchka" suite in a piano version for a Sunday afternoon recital. Come to think of it, if Miss Wang comes to share the spotlight with those two eminent pianists, she will be in very good company indeed. Last Saturday night certainly was a performance to remember and savor for years to come.

Posted by: reithl | May 25, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I'm wondering the same thing. Why no coverage of this in the paper version?

This was a indeed major musical event (although thankfully not reviewed by Tim Page -- a true ignoramus among music critics for his panning a few years ago of the late Alicia de Larrocha, temperamentally a very different artist than Wang, but just as great and even more mature given her seniority).

Madonna and Gwen Stefani may draw larger crowds with their over-the-top antics in performance, but its concerts like Wang's recital that are true musical 'events'.

Posted by: malcolm1964 | May 25, 2010 9:37 PM | Report abuse

A similarly adoring perspective (mentioning all of the encores):

http://ionarts.blogspot.com/2010/05/yuja-wang-sixth-and-i.html

Posted by: Charles_D | May 27, 2010 9:05 AM | Report abuse

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