By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh
Just a week ago, she had to cancel her concerts due to a sore arm. But pianist Yuja Wang showed no trace of fatigue during her triumphant Toronto debut recital at Koerner Hall Saturday evening.
Wang, a Chinese-born Curtis Institute grad, is a new generation artist who has risen quickly in recent years to much critical acclaim, and it was easy to see why. She walked briskly on stage, bowed in such speed and depth that her head almost banged the piano, and showered the audience with three Liszt-transcribed Schubert lieder — Gretchen am Spinnrade, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, and Der Erlkönig — with a virtuosity that was both tender and robust.
Despite her petite ballerina figure, Wang’s sound was enormous. Obviously, she’s got red-hot chops. However, what was more mesmerizing was the way she owned the piano with a sense of youthful confidence and delivered ripe interpretations that are as smooth as a tiramisu. This was especially true in Schumann’s daunting Symphonic Etudes and a tasteful selection of Scriabin’s preludes, etudes, and the Poeme No. 1 in F-sharp major, Op. 32.
The highlight of the recital was Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6. Here, Wang’s charmingly feisty and rebellious personality shone through immediately in the devilish main theme. Her percussive attacks and blows were so daring with military-like precision that the lyrical passages sounded ethereally vulnerable and delicate.
Wang played three contrasting encores — Chopin’s Waltz Op. 64, No. 2, Volodos’s paraphrase of Mozart’s Turkish March, and Scarlatti’s Sonata in G major, K. 455 — for an exuberant audience that stood on their feet cheering and shouting bravos. She nearly slipped while walking across the stage, but without losing composure sat down on the piano bench and performed the pieces with grace, mischief, and total control.
At 23 years old, this pianist is not just a powerhouse. She is one of the most interesting and important artists in the next decade.
> Read an interview of Yuja Wang in The Music Scene Spring 2010