Spellbinding - Yuja Wang plays Prokofiev in Rome

Santa Cecilia Hall, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 18 January 2014

Less than two months after her last appearance in Rome in the company of Leonidas Kavakos, the utterly amazing Yuja Wang was back at the Auditorium Parco della Musica on Saturday, this time under the baton of conductor Sir Antonio Pappano, musical director of the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Yuja’s recently released live recording with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 has rarely left my CD player over the last few weeks, so I couldn’t wait to hear her perform Prokofiev’s colossal, yet intricate, work in Rome.

CD autographed by Yuja Wang after concert!
With her hugely charismatic personality and flamboyant sartorial choices Yuja Wang excites interest from the very second she appears on stage – her skintight dresses and stiletto heels inevitably provoke gasps – but it is ultimately the breathtaking brilliance of her pianism that leaves her audiences bedazzled. On Saturday afternoon she appeared to achieve the impossible, and to trump even herself, in a performance of mesmerising artistry that held the Rome concert-goers utterly captivated. Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto is a notoriously complex work, unrelenting in the physical demands it makes on the soloist, with absolutely no respite for the pianist at any point. The cadenza during the opening movement alone is a terrifying beast clocking in at six minutes in length, executed by Yuja with an enthralling lyricism infused with pummeling menace. Throughout this enigmatic and fantastical concerto she was given marvellous support by Pappano and the orchestra – I particularly loved the complicity of orchestra and soloist during the Intermezzo, which managed to be sinister, threatening and playful all at once.

It was an exhilarating performance of virtuoso technical brilliance, played fearlessly by one of the most talented young concert pianists in the world today. The applause was thunderous and Yuja was called back out for four curtain calls. There was an audible sigh of fleeting disappointment when it became clear that there would be no encore, but after such a formidable performance, it was clear that Yuja had given us her all. Stunning.

The evening was rounded out after the intermission by the melancholy elegance of Brahms Symphony No. 2. A greater contrast would be hard to find, but it acted beautifully as a virtual decompression chamber after Yuja’s electrifying Prokofiev.

Full programme:
Symphony No. 59 “Fire”
Piano Concerto No. 2
Symphony No. 2