Yuja Wang (piano)
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 12 April, 2022
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Since 2007, when she got her first big break after Martha Argerich backed out of a concert in Boston, followers of Yuja Wang have come to her performances expecting to be both stunned and surprised. For this Carnegie Hall recital, she offered several surprises, the first being what pieces she would play. No program was publicized beforehand (but that did not prevent the 2,804-seat auditorium being sold out). On arrival, audience members found a list of eight works by six different composers in the program book, with a warning that they “may not be performed in the printed order.” Wang played them straight through, in the order listed.
The stunning element, apart from her sartorial choices (about which I will make no further comment), was her playing. She set the tone for the evening with her first selection: an animated, frequently supercharged reading of Beethoven’s E-flat Sonata. In her hands, the joyful, sometimes frolicsome piece sounded strikingly spontaneous, despite her reliance on the score displayed on the tablet perched on her piano rack, where it stayed for the whole evening. She was at her best in the high-powered Scherzo and vigorous Presto con fuoco Finale where tempo and texture shifts were vividly drawn, and she seemed to savor the shapeshifting.
After popping up from the piano bench for one of her trademark deep but speedy bows, she immediately dove into one of Schoenberg’s earliest twelve-tone works, his Opus 25 Suite for Piano, a six-part series of percussive miniatures with names reminiscent of Baroque dance forms. Wang’s volatile interpretation was impressive for its speed and gestural sweep, though her sometimes muddy playing failed to give each one a sufficiently recognizable character.
She brought the first half to a close with two of Ligeti’s eighteen masterly Etudes. She heightened the tragic quality of No.6, ‘Automne à Varsovie’ (Autumn in Warsaw) as she wove the descending motif through a plethora of notes to very lowest ranges on the piano. In No.13, ‘L’escalier du diable’ (The Devil’s Staircase) she produced thunderous sounds on the entire keyboard as her nimble fingers drove the hard-driving toccata from the lower to the upper end.
Following intermission came an explosive rendering of Scriabin’s passionate Sonata No.3. The opening Drammatico movement alternated between passages of extreme tenderness and more thunderous but muddily executed moments. A wide-ranging Allegretto was followed by a gently searching Andante, and a raging Presto con fuoco Finale.
The fireworks continued in an exuberant account of Albéniz’s ‘Lavapiés’. As she raced through the tumultuous stream of notes, she reveled in the dynamic extremes and changes of register, playing with great strength but less than the desired clarity.
Wang closed her official program on a bluesy note with energetic and zestful renditions of two Preludes from by Ukrainian Nikolai Kapustin’s 24 Preludes in Jazz Style. She gave a characterful touch to the off-beats in the slower, more doleful No.11 and infused the lively, more upbeat No.10 with Art Tatum-like energy.
The relatively brief second half of the program allowed plenty of time for encores, and Wang offered six. They included one of Mendelssohn’s lilting Song Without Words, from which she segued directly into Earl Wild’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Dance of the Four Swans’ from Swan Lake; Kapustin’s inventive Concert Etude, Op.40/3, ‘Toccatina’; Arturo Marquez’s alluring Danzon No.2; an invigorating treatment of Philip Glass’s Etude No.6; and a fast and furious reading of the formidable final Precipitato from Prokofiev’s Sonata No.7.