Yuja Wang at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Étude tableaux – in A minor, Op.39/6; in B minor, Op.39/4 & in E flat minor, Op.39/5
Élégie in E flat minor, Op.3/1
Piano Sonata quasi una fantasia in E flat, Op.27/1
Piano Sonata No.5, Op.53
Piano Sonata No.6 in A, Op.52

Yuja Wang (piano)

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 1 May, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Yuja Wang. Photograph: yujawang.dreamhosters.comIn her brief career to date Yuja Wang has proved herself to be arguably the most talented of the considerable number of pianists coming out of China and achieving international success. A clutch of acclaimed recordings on Deutsche Grammophon and appearances with many of the world’s leading orchestras have ensued; and she attracted a sell-out audience at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Much of her reputation is based on a virtuoso technique, second to none amongst her peers, and even the most formidable pieces hold no fear for her. Her recital at QEH two years ago was a showcase for her technique; this one even more so. Such were the demands of her advertised programme it was hardly surprising the total length ran to a relatively short 70 minutes.

It all started promisingly enough as she attacked the Rachmaninov pieces with youthful impetuosity and some stunningly clean articulation. The growling menace of the wolf as it closed in on its prey in the ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ sequence of the opening Étude-tableau was startlingly conveyed. The Élégie was highlighted by lyrical sensibility that captured the passionate mood of the young composer. Wang overplayed her hand in the last Étude-tableau where the sheer volume of sound (over-pedalled) engulfed the yearning melody.

The Beethoven Sonata was cleverly chosen. The first of the Opus 27 quasi una fantasia piano sonatas has explosive outbursts in the first three movements – perfect material for Yuja Wang’s dynamic and aggressive style which she duly delivered in spades. The Adagio was sweetly dressed but the feeling was this was the calm before the storm.

The tempest arrived in the Scriabin, which highlighted all Yuja Wang’s strengths and weaknesses in the space of twelve minutes. Sviatoslav Richter described it as the most difficult piece in the solo piano repertoire. But there’s more to this one-movement piece than rapid key-changes and dizzying figurations, but here you wouldn’t have known it. The strong suggestion of sensuality and ecstatic outpouring also conveyed in Scriabin’s companion orchestral work, The Poem of Ecstasy, was almost entirely absent from Wang’s brilliant assault.

Prokofiev’s Sixth Piano Sonata (1939) conjures up images of war. Some interpreters have hinted at defiance but Wang just went for the jugular in the opening movement, the violent clusters of notes pounded out ferociously. The sense that this was turning into a one-dimensional experience was confirmed in the grimly sardonic Allegretto where the heavy-handed approach dampened all hopes of light relief. The finale was carried off with aplomb with some breathtakingly clean runs and nimble fingerwork, but there had been few if any insights.

The encore was Vladimir Horowitz’s daredevil transcription of ‘Bohemian Dance’ from Bizet’s Carmen – all the stops pulled out in another demonstration of dazzling playing.

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