RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Concert Review/ Yuja Wang

img  Tobias Fischer

Yuja Wang, Piano
Schubert-Liszt: Gretchen am Spinnrade
Schubert-Liszt: Auf dem Wasser zu singen
Schubert-Liszt: Der Erlkönig
Schumann: Symphonic Etudes, Op.13
Scriabin: Prelude in B Major, Op.11 No.11
Scriabin: Prelude in B Minor, Op.13 No.6
Scriabin: Prelude in G Sharp Minor, Op.11 No.12
Scriabin: Etude in G Sharp Minor, Op.8 No.9
Scriabin: Poème in F Sharp Major, Op.32 No.1 
Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No.6 in A Major, Op.82
The life of a classical artist has never gotten easier, despite the deceivingly glamorous extravagance on the surface. Speak to any professional musician, and one can quickly attest that this road has only become increasingly difficult in our young generation of musicians than it used to be a century ago. Solid technique is a must; a wide-spanning repertory is an asset. But, ultimately what distinguishes the “good” to the “great” ones often lies in this special trait called “musicianship,” while the “great” from the “exceptional” are those who acquired this trait early on in their careers and steadily shape it into something special. Here is a quality that is very much a prodigious talent as it cannot be strictly taught; only guided by the wisdom of teachers. 
From Domenico Scarlatti to Jennifer Higdon, the 23 year-old Yuja Wang has given début recitals that captured no less accolades as “a star is born” (Le Droit, 2005) and “jaw-dropping technique” (Washington Post, 2008). But, what identifies Wang from her peers above all is a musicianship that is rare in her breed. Her musicianship is one identified by her innate acuity to sound and her immediate association to transform into a palette of musical colors on the piano; all of which are coupled to her beautiful sense and control of rhythm that is likely influenced by her interests in Jazz. These aspects of her pianism have attracted pianophiles much like uncovering clues to an interesting detective mystery.
Contrary to the program listing, Wang opened with the Liszt transcriptions to three Schubert Lieder. Beginning with Gretchen am Spinnrade, Wang established the emotional atmosphere of the Goethe text with her sweeping left-hand accompaniment, while her right-hand shaped the principal vocal line leading to an intense build-up of fortissimo chords to reflect the emotional breakdown of Gretchen. The Auf dem Wasser zu singen likewise evoked an interesting dialogue of episodes set against an exchange of major and minor keys; this Wang achieved with an embellishment of different tone colors on the Hamburg Steinway. At times, one may have wanted her melodic line on the right hand to sing out more passionately by comparison to her accompaniment on the left, which at times were succumb to heavy-weightedness. The devilish Liszt-transcription of Der Erlkönig illustrated Wang's faculty as a story-teller on her instrument, wherein she took full advantage of the technical embellishments of the original score and its interchange of melodic lines between the high register (representing the sick child) and the lower register (representing the galloping rider) to enhance the narrative excitement of the awe-inspiring text. Thanks to a reminder from the author’s concert buddy (Henry, that's you!), one may also detect a Horowitzian-trait that may have inspired Wang in her own interpretation of this transcription. For example, in the last clause of the fourth stanza, following a long passagework on the sustained pedal, Wang characteristically articulated this bass passage with an absence on this pedal to musically resemble what would be equivalent to "The wind rustles through dry leaves." This, and other instances, were done tastefully.

From Schubert-Liszt, Wang turned to Schumann's Symphonic Etudes, which is a relatively "new" collection that she has begun introducing into her regular concertizing programming. While master pianists such as Géza Anda, Sergio Fiorentino, Nelson Freire, or Maurizio Pollini each made a signature out of their performances of this work, Wang provided no less a thought-provoking interpretation on this collection. Her choice of selecting 3 of the 5 posthumous variations (Nos. 2, 3, 5) and inserting them isolated within the twelve etudes (rather than presenting them coherently as a quintuplet) was perhaps chosen in this manner to highlight a stark contrast between the innovative characters of each Etude subgroup and a resolution rhythmically to the high-spirits preceding each variation. Schumann’s spontaneous passion and lyricism, notorious in his fantasy pieces, were brought out in various shades of colour by Wang. Intelligent she was to shape the exquisite harmonic dialogues between Etudes I and II, then a seemingly knight-errant gallantry in her attaca approaches of the sfozandi in the Etude IV, and at the end she brought out those dazzling staccatos in the fanfare-like finale of the Etude XII. Overall, Wang intelligently combined her pianistic virtuosity with all the possible timbres out of her instrument. By drawing on her strengths with expressions of freedom and fantasy and a faculty with rhythmic drive, Wang transformed Schumann’s solo collection as an oeuvre for imaginary orchestra. Had Tchaikovsky lived to witness Wang’s performance, it might as well propelled the composer to arrange the remainder ten Etudes for orchestra. Pianophiles will have to keep an eye for her Symphonic Etudes in Wang’s forthcoming recording plans.
Wang selected five Scriabin pieces that was in contrast to listings on the concert program. Rather than focusing on mere pyrotechnics over the keyboard, she uncovered the intimate aspects of her pianism to the public presenting this short but varied program in an unifying thread. This was Wang’s capsulated view of the development to Scriabin’s early Romantic piano style, and showed both the composer’s (and pianist’s) influence to Chopin, Liszt, Wagner and love of French music. Wang presented the earlier Etude and Preludes with expressionistic details and vivid textures core to Scriabin’s piano music. In a gradient, she reached a high point with the melancholic Poème Op. 32 No.1 where Wang did the composer full justice by illustrating the progressive breakdown of tonal harmony and rhythmic regularity in Scriabin’s music. Most beautiful was her articulation in the final few bars of the Poème, where her pianissimo notes filled the Koerner Hall with mysticism and evoked an almost nostalgic glance into the past. What was a major highlight in her recital was saved to the end with Prokofiev’s Sonata No.6, the first of three War Sonatas written in 1939. Despite recent reports concerning a sore arm, Wang probed directly into the unusual harmonic coloration of the first movement, with the main motif that culminates the entire work filled with rhythmic energy. One might have wished for more vulgar and rawness in order to enforce the “oomph” at times, but nonetheless, she provided a weightless, sweet, almost fragile subsidiary theme that served a striking contrast to this muscular main theme. The Allegretto displayed Wang’s free exploitation on the score’s witty effects, while she endorsed the slow waltz of the third movement with necessary rhythmic jest and lyricism. The Vivace finale started dramatic, sombre even severe, and being a good narrator of her instrument, Wang pushed the tension with concluding fortissimo chords that descended like thunderbolts from the Titans.

Yuja Wang gave no less than three encores including a beautifully-rendered Chopin Waltz in C Sharp Minor, a Horowitizian-inspired Scarlatti Sonata in G, and her ever so favourite reworking on Mozart-Volodos’s Turkish March. With her new CD, Transformation out in mid-April and a new disc on Rachmaninoff (/w Claudio Abbado) due for future release, it begs the question whether one will have the good fortune to revisit some of the piano works tonight in her third solo album on Deutsche Grammophon. Let’s hope the wait won’t be too long.

By: Patrick P.L. Lam

Image by Felix Broede

Homepage: Yuja Wang

Related articles

Concert Review/ Christian Tetzlaff
Live at Koerner Hall, Toronto, ...
Concert Review/ Yefim Bronfman
Live at Koerner Hall, Toronto, ...
Cd Feature/ Paavo Järvi & CSO: "Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5"
An emotional interpretation: Captures the ...
CD Feature/ Christiane Klonz: "Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt"
A comeback in style: Klonz' ...

Partner sites