Yuja Wang, Piano Super-hero in Black and White reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Screen shot 2013-10-27 at 6.22.48 PMOctober 27, 2013. Koerner Hall, Toronto.

Yuja Wang was all in black and white—her zebra frock, the keys of her Steinway, and the scores she played that left you feeling nobody ever rendered music so black and white— so fragile and hard-hitting, so slow and speedy, so tender and so tough.

Ms. Wang blasted into the opening chord of Prokofiev’s single movement Sonata No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 28, then unleashed a light-fingered toccata for a few bars as a lead into the playful, exquisitely modulated first theme. In the second theme, she showed how remarkably slow a lyrical melody can go before exploding the  display of arpeggios that she quick-marched in alarmingly loud, colourful harmonies to the finish.

In Chopin’s Piano Sonata no. 3 in B minor. Op. 58, Ms.Wang demonstrated her natural connection with the rich polyphony and counterpoint that is Chopin’s homage to Bach. As if following an impulse, she rolls the notes of the first movement in a tumble like numbered balls in a barrel, and develops that into a singing lyric woven into lacy fractal patterns that she dissolved in the quiet coda. After the fleet, finger-busting Scherzo that frames a thoughtful Trio, Ms. Wang opened the heart of this sonata, the Largo whose heartbeat is a rhapsody that felt like the most beautiful music ever played.

Following intermission there was more Chopin, and Nicolai Kapustin’s Variations for Piano, Op. 41, a piece that allowed Ms. Wang to put her jazz chops on display, which she did with style and grace, moving through rag, boogie, dance-band and blue beats, marking the changes with head and shoulder jive and flashing a shiny grin. This might also be the time to mention that her first of several encores was a version of the 1925 Tin Pan Alley classic “Tea for Two” styled in the florid, virtuosic manner of Art Tatum.

Her show-ending and show-stopping closer was Stravinsky’s rhythmically challenging Three Movements from Pétrouchka. The opening rhythms of the first movement were as if Yuja Wang had under her left hand a jack-hammer that became, as she swooped down the keyboard, a falcon stooping; this she switched into the blurr of woodpecker, all the while her right hand was ringing out the theme clear as a bell whose echoes repeated softly as if it were bouncing off the walls of distant canyons.

The second movement was all slinky, spooky apparitions looming loud and creeping softly, in a comic burlesque that was exciting and swelled ecstatically into the third movement whose rhythms Yuja Wang poured out in a lust of colour, humour and glowing melody. And there it is, in black and white, the story of Yuja Wong’s second conquest of Toronto this year.






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