Santa Cecilia Hall, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 1 February 2013
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!
Pour le piano
Sonata No. 6 in G major, Op. 62
Elegie in E minor, Op. 3 No. 1
Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (transcr. Lemare)
Moment musicaux, Op. 16, No. 4 in E minor
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36
Bizet - Horowitz
Variations on a theme from G. Bizet's "Carmen" (The Gypsy Song Act II)
Schubert - Liszt