Those who have read my blog will know that I am always keen to highlight female pianists especially those of international statue. So I was really looking forward to hearing Chinese concert pianist Yuja Wang’s recital as part of the International Piano Series at the South Bank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Wang has already attained a remarkable career at the age of 24. She has debuted all round the world to critical acclaim and has an exclusive recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon. With a reputation such as this, I was expecting a truly great performance.
Yuja Wang did not disappoint. She casually strolled up to the large Steinway in a beautiful and elegant midnight blue long velvet gown, totally dispelling the myth that she is only known for her short dresses! Wang opened with the somewhat unusual choice of Rachmaninov’s Étude - Tableaux, selecting Op. 39. Nos. 4, 5 & 6 and the Élégie, Op. 3 No. 1, from the 5 Morceaux de Fantaisie. I enjoyed the sense of grandeur she brought to each étude, all of which exuded romantic warmth and subliminal phrasing. The Élégie too was beautifully judged and masterfully pedalled – quite a feat in this work.
Beethoven’s Sonata in E flat major, Op. 27 No. 1 was full of surprises not all of which were stylistically true to the composer. However, Wang’s rhythmical and structural grasp was outstanding. Particularly enjoyable was the spectacularly phrased and voiced opening (Andante) and the turbo charged virtuosity in the Allegro molto e vivace and Allegro vivace. She caught both humour and beauty in this piece.
The last work before the interval was Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53. Here Wang excelled. We witnessed breathtaking virtuosity and colour. She clearly relished the light and energy in Scriabin’s highly personal style.
The second half was devoted entirely to Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op.82. Wang had dressed appropriately for this piece, in a stunning full length red gown with diamante detail. This work suited her perfectly. She tore into the opening melodic figure pounding the rhythmical material throughout the first movement. The Allegretto was spikey, percussive and effective, and the plaintive Waltz, which forms the third movement, was cool and demure. The finale proved Wang to be a virtuoso of exceptional skill – her athletic fingers skipped through the outlandishly difficult figurations making them appear simple. Horowitz’s Carmen Fantasy provided an apt encore.
Yuja Wang has certainly silenced many of her critics but I found her overall sound very harsh and not particularly powerful. She often lost the beautiful lyrical qualities which pervade many of the works on her chosen programme. At times I was yearning for the rich sonorities and warm lush sounds provided by many other pianists. However, this recital proved a tour de force of piano virtuosity.