Friday, May 17, 2013

Yuja Wang at Carnegie Hall-a piano virtuoso reveals souls of composers

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere May 16, 2013

NEW YORK--Yuja Wang, in her pencil thin off-the-shoulder black mini-dress and tights, may have been dressed for clubbing, but once she sat at the Steinway on the Perelman Stage at Carnegie Hall, she was all about the business of being the classical music world's most prodigious young piano superstar.
Comparisons are often made to Lang Lang, another meteoric star of Chinese background. They even shared the same teacher at Curtis Institute, but that's where the parallels stop. From the moment Wang tore into the ferocious Gargoyles, Op. 29, by American composer Lowell Liebermann, it was apparent that she was all about the business of making terrific music that not only displayed her considerable technical skills, but that also probed into the deep inner psychological voice of the composer.
The concert was the first of its Keyboard Virtuosos I series, which continues with Andras Schiff, Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at 8pm. For tickets and information, visit

Thundering block chords, rapidly cascading runs and ringing arpeggios, in which each note spoke with a distinctive voice, dominated the opening bars. Her precise attack and forceful playing, which at times caused her to lift her demure frame from the piano bench, was equally matched by quieter moments of introspection and lovely, fluid and emotive playing in the Allegro moderato that followed. In the Presto feroce, Wang built layer upon layer of suspense, and just as it seemed she could go no further, erupted in a  flurry of notes that put her well into overdrive. Arising from the keyboard to a thunderous ovation, she waved a hearty shoutout to the composer who waved his approval from his seat in return.

Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor revealed an even more pensive mood. Wang approached the composer's nostalgic piece with a firm understanding of its depth of orchestral color and frequent flashes of brilliance. Wang shows particular strength in the left hand, allowing inner voices to ring forth, even as she gives full reign to Rachmaninoff's lofty, Romantic themes with her right hand. Through her depth use of voicing, she allowed each of the themes to literally sing with a singularly beautiful voice, full of heartfelt emotion. Exquisite!

Her reading of Scriabin's sonata fantasy, Piano Sonata No. 2 in G-sharp Minor showed her further mastery of both technique and temperament. The dark rumblings of storms and tidal waves in the Andante,  quickly gave way to the subtle murmurings of rippling water and rustling wind in the trees. She seamlessly segued into Scriabin's Piano Sonata No. 6 in G Major, caressing the keys with her supple fingers as she explored its brooding passages before building the tension to a fever pitch, thus displaying considerable keyboard pyrotechnics.

The true revelation of the evening was Maurice Ravel's bombastic piano adaptation of his orchestral masterpiece, La valse.

Wang's meticulous fingering technique and percussive keystrokes gave full expression to the kaleidoscopic brilliance of Ravel's most brilliant musical vision. Ravel recalls both the grandeur of Old Europe and its eventual decay following the ravages of World War I. Wang captured the beauty and opulent majesty of the grand crystal chandelier ballrooms of a bygone era and the chaos of their eventual decline. She built the image of parlors filled with shimmering candelabra to one of rooms imploding in a blinding flash of laser light. It was an explosive climax. "She plays music that brings the house down," one woman concert-goer exclaimed from the seat behind me. Well said!

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