Fantasia, Y. Wang (2012)
Rachmaninoff, Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini / Piano Concert No. 2, Y. Wang, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, C. Abbado (2011)
The big draw, of course, was Yuja Wang playing the solo part of Chopin's first piano concerto. A prodigious technician at the keyboard, she has also impressed me as a fiercely intelligent musician, and this performance was no different. Chopin is not one of the composers I associate with her all that much, but his combination of virtuosity and wistful expression suited her just fine. Wang brought a fragile, understated tone to the more delicate passages, but that perhaps over-affected wanness was tempered by an unpredictable rhythmic quality that made the first movement leap off the page. Her runs glistened smoothly, and the trills sparkled -- it was a technical tour de force, as usual -- and because she was often able to make her right hand's sound so transparent (like those sighing bel canto excesses in the slow movement), even at maximum velocity, many interesting details in the left hand emerged. Graf kept the orchestra underneath her often very soft sound, and the orchestra, with some of the principal musicians sitting out (Wang had lovely duets with the bassoon in the second movement), gave a tragic quality to the introduction and interludes. The Vivace finale is not exactly a great piece of music, but Wang's astonishing virtuosity was enough to make you forget that. After such a blockbuster but admirably subtle performance, it was disappointing that Wang chose not to treat us to one of her signature trashy encores, especially since she played four of them at her 2010 recital and since her most recent recording is a smorgasbord of such pieces.
Robert Battey, Graf and the NSO get the most out of two little-known works (Washington Post, December 7)
This program repeats this evening (December 8, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.