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Yuja Wang @ Sixth and I

available at Amazon
Yuja Wang, Transformation

(released on April 13, 2010)
Chinese-born, Curtis-trained pianist Yuja Wang is all of 23 years old, but she has already given so many striking performances in the Washington area: a stunning 2008 WPAS recital, accomplished performances of the Higdon piano concerto and Prokofiev second with the National Symphony, as well as the Prokofiev first and Liszt first in Baltimore -- indeed, she is coming back next season with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to play Rachmaninoff. In her latest recital appearance with Washington Performing Arts Society, on Saturday night at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, she gave the one of the most viscerally thrilling and musically profound performances yet to reach my ears. It was noteworthy both for its technical fierceness, with a few fatigued slips appearing only at the end of the last work on the program, Prokofiev's sixth sonata, and for its carefully calculated architectural orderliness.

Wang opened the recital with three of Liszt's outrageous arrangements of Schubert Lieder. The melody of each song, often marooned in the middle of increasingly complex accompanying textures, soared in a flowing legato as if sung by a voice. Pensive yet agitated arpeggiation percolated through Gretchen am Spinnrade, cascading notes murmured in Auf dem Wasser zu singen, and the menacing king's passages in Der Erlkönig had an elfin, razor-sharp grace. Far from being simple pieces for the performer to warm up on, Liszt's settings make terrifying demands, making one hand or the other cross to add brilliant flourishes or creating great sonic outbursts in roiling octaves, nowhere with more abandon than in Der Erlkönig. A Scriabin set opened the second half, ranging from a poetic B minor prelude (op. 13/6), with its lost wisps of melody, to the almost expressionistic savagery of the G# minor etude (op. 8/9). Two of the softest moments of the evening came here, in the ethereal mistiness of the G# minor prelude (op. 11/12) and the reverie of the F# minor Poème (op. 32/1), with its wisps of curling smoke forming a halo around eyes lost in thought.

Other Articles:

Joe Banno, Breathtaking Wang delivers in DC recital (Washington Post, May 24)

Robert Battey, Yuja Wang: Transformation (Washington Post, May 24)

Lloyd Dykk, Yuja Wang triumphs with intensely difficult program in Vancouver (, May 14)

Lawrence B. Johnson, Adventurous Yuja Wang tackles challenging, diverse recital for Chamber Music Society (Detroit News, May 13)

Peter Dobrin, An elfin Yuja Wang flexes piano brawn (Philadelphia Inquirer, May 1)
If Maurizio Pollini's recital earlier this month was the best way to mark the Chopin anniversary this year, Wang commemorated the anniversary of Schumann's birth par excellence with her performance of the composer's Symphonic Etudes, op. 13. Wang restored three of the variations cut from the set by Schumann, and published in later editions after the composer's death. Judging by this performance, Wang will likely make an indispensable recording of this work one day. With the tempi stretched for dramatic effect, even a truly breathtaking "Presto possibile" in the ninth etude, she drew out each character, tender or rueful, martial or manic, dancing over the keys and delighting in the rhythmic shifts and jabbed accents. Wang had a similar approach to the Prokofiev sixth sonata, digging into the loud and fast passages with barbaric savagery, giving sharp-fingered irony to the grotesque march of the second movement and a carnivalesque playfulness to the last movement, more humorous than vicious.

A generous selection of four encores revisited all of these strengths: the soaring line of Gluck's Mélodie (Giovanni Sgambati's arrangement of a tune from Orfeo ed Euridice), the athletic vigor of a Scarlatti G major sonata (L. 209 / K. 455), the blistering virtuosity and cartoon-like looniness of Cziffra's arrangement of Johann Strauss, Jr.'s Tritsch-Tratsch Polka (the work is indeed associated with the cartoon Tom and Jerry), and the palate-cleansing dissonance of Danse russe (the first part of Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrouchka). The only regret at this recital was the sound of the piano, a Steinway rented for the occasion, which had a fairly good tone, a reliable una corda pedal, but something clanging and rattling in the middle to lower registers' mechanism that added disturbingly to Wang's already percussive touch.

The final WPAS concert of the season at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue will feature cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan (June 15, 8 pm).

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