Sunday, February 3, 2013

Yuja Wang gives sensational performance in Rome

Santa Cecilia Hall, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 1 February 2013

Whenever I read Yuja Wang concert reviews in the press I admit that I'm often irked by the amount of attention the invariably male reviewers dedicate to her wardrobe – who cares what she was wearing, tell me about the music! I mutter to myself irritably. Now that I've had the chance to see Yuja (as she likes to be known) in concert myself, however, I understand that to review an evening with the Chinese piano virtuoso without mentioning her costume changes would be a crime! The very second she appeared on stage in a shimmering white full length gown, with its mid-thigh split, teetering on stiletto heels and huge wedged soles that would give even Lady Gaga pause for thought, I swear one could almost hear a gasp and the sound of two thousand pairs of eyebrows raising in unison. She most definitely had our attention!

Already a concert circuit veteran at the tender age of twenty-five, if anything Yuja looks considerably younger than her age, yet seconds into Debussy's Pour le piano it became clear that her youthful spontaneity and energy is underpinned with an extraordinarily accomplished technique – the second movement was sublime. Smiling and taking the fastest and deepest bows I've ever seen, the hugely charismatic pianist seemed perfectly at home in front of an audience, and also able to nimbly adapt to the dramatic changes of mood in a varied programme. The Scriabin Sonata No.6, with its infamous nightmarish atmosphere and dissonant chords that deterred even the composer himself from performing it in public, was genuinely disquieting at times. The fearless Yuja, however, also brought a sense of mischief, as well as darkness, to the piece. The highlight of the first half, however, was Ravel's La Valse, a dizzy, swirling fairground ride of a waltz which brought thunderous applause and cheers of the delight from the audience, and three curtain calls before the intermission.

The second half of the recital opened with an even louder gasp when Yuja appeared in a new outfit – this time a shoulderless full length gown in a colour that I shall now forever think of as “Rachmaninoff Red”, coupled with perilously high black patent leather stilettos. Next up were a series of three short Rachmaninoff compositions. The Rachmaninoff-Mendelssohn Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream was particularly lovely and elicited a spontaneous chuckle – and a smile from Yuja - from many people in the audience at its close. US contemporary composer Lowell Liebermann is little known in Europe, and his name hadn't appeared at all in the programme details available prior to the concert, so the inclusion of the mysterious and rather eerie Gargoyles Op.2 was a total, and as it turned out, wonderful surprise. Evocative of early twentieth century Jazz-age compositions, it was an incredible showcase for Yuja Wang's sheer virtuosity – I fully expected sparks to magically start flying from her fingers during the fourth and final presto feroce movement! The main programme closed with another astounding tour de force - Rachmaninoff’s often turbulent Sonata No. 2, and the audience response was ecstatic.

Yuja returned for not one, but two encores – the hugely enjoyable Horowitz arrangement of Bizet's “The Gypsy Song” from Carmen, and finally a Schubert Lieder. The stunning performance was rewarded with a standing ovation and numerous curtain calls. I was thrilled to get the chance to meet her and get a signed CD after the show and discover that off stage this divine being is friendly, funny and utterly charming.

Yuja Wang is a sensational performer – miss her at your peril!

Full Programme:
Debussy
Pour le piano
Scriabin
Sonata No. 6 in G major, Op. 62
Ravel
La valse
*
Rachmaninoff
Elegie in E minor, Op. 3 No. 1
Rachmaninoff-Mendelssohn
Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (transcr. Lemare)
Rachmaninoff
Moment musicaux, Op. 16, No. 4 in E minor
Liebermann
Gargoyles Op.2
Rachmaninoff
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36
Encore:
Bizet - Horowitz
Variations on a theme from G. Bizet's "Carmen" (The Gypsy Song Act II)
Schubert - Liszt
Lieder

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