Yuja Wang triumphs with intensely difficult program in Vancouver

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      A Vancouver Recital Society presentation. At the Orpheum on Thursday, May 13

      Yuja Wang, the young pianist who marked the Vancouver Recital Society’s 30th anniversary with a recent downtown performance, is beginning to be described as “the new Lang Lang”. Let’s hope not.

      Lang Lang, just a few years ago, was an awesomely promising talent; now he seems to be getting managed to death and turning into a rock star, with the sudden development of quirks and eccentricities in his playing, to the point where, putting it the other way around, he’d do well to get a comparison to Yuja Wang.

      Almost two years ago, the now-23-year-old Wang played for the VRS at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver and was called back for an all-but-unheard-of four encores. It was clear then that she needed a much bigger venue. (So where was the audience on May 13 at the Orpheum?) And for this return visit, she also played a much bigger program—in fact, it was huge, and ended with Sergei Prokofiev’s most difficult work, the Piano Sonata No. 6 in A Major. You don’t normally get a program like this, which recalled the romantic piano titans of the past.

      Wang started with three Franz Schubert pieces—Auf dem Wasser zu singen, Der Erlkí¶nig, and Gretchen am Spinnrade—which weren’t songs but virtuosic transcriptions by Franz Liszt, and they were virtuosically played. Robert Schumann’s half-hour-long Symphonic Etudes followed, and included the usually omitted five posthumous variations, which are too beautiful to ignore.

      Her playing had the essential Schumann quality of Innigkeit, or inwardness, and it had all the chops for its harsh technical demands, the only flaw being a strangely rushed second variation, marked espressivo.

      Nothing was easy about this program, including five pieces by Alexander Scriabin, the Russian mystic/megalomaniac who wrote some exquisite music, as Wang’s choices revealed.

      The two brutal tone clusters pounded out with the fists (col pugno) in Prokofiev’s 1939 Piano Sonata No. 6 must have to do with Joseph Stalin in this bitingly sarcastic work. Wang really went for them and sent the whole thing flying. I’ve never heard a more sensitively integrated performance of it. The extraordinary thing was that after an already intensely difficult program, she had the strength to end with this.

      Rather, not quite. There was still an encore.

      No doubt about it, this is a major star. Long may she shine.

      See more at Lloyd Dykk’s Vancouver Scene blog at lloyddykk.blogspot.com/.

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      2 Comments

      montyvan

      May 16, 2010 at 12:39pm

      It was a wonderful recital. And the surprise opener by 16-year old violinist Timmy Chooi was a great treat! That kid can really play!

      Kin Ming Wong

      May 18, 2010 at 5:17pm

      Yuja Wang is the present-and-future of classical concert pianists. I just pray that she doesn't become a rock star personality like Lang Lang. I don't think she will but you never know.
      Her technique is FLAWLESS and I mean flawless! She also has such RAW POWER to her playing, much like Argerich. It was an absolute treat and inspiration to hear her live.