Review: Yuja Wang at the Kimmel Center


It's extremely unlikely that the piece has been written Yuja Wang can't play. For her, there is no repertoire too steep to conquer. The technique is simply off the charts. That all this piano brawn emanates from the elfin frame of a 23-year-old recent Curtis Institute of Music graduate somehow multiplies the wonder.
She programmed wisely for her current recital tour, which, after cancellations in California due to a sore arm, continued Thursday night at the Kimmel Center. Verizon Hall was stocked (if far from capacity) with friends from her Philadelphia days, and, to judge from the applause between movements, a lot of classical newbies. She gave them what they came for - intense athleticism, a winsome stage persona, and grateful bows so deep you feared she might hit her head on the piano bench.
The meat of the program was Prokofiev's Sonata No. 6, which, in this marriage of pianist and work, might as well have been composed for her. It asks for everything - abrupt exactitude in the first movement, light-hearted relief in the second, a dreaming-in-sound third, and a fourth movement of canny pacing and order. There's nothing untraditional in her approach, but the piece did open promising peeks into the personality of this still-emerging musician - a touch of mischief in the second movement's jolly left-hand melody, and some deeply felt emotion as the third movement floats off.
Schumann's Symphonic Etudes represents a kind of unreachable apogee of technique, but it takes a musical seer to hear the entire piece in her head at once and divine its essential messages. That's always the challenge with Schumann. Wang of course has the notes down, and she'll no doubt arrive one day at an original interpretive point of view that doesn't make the technique an end in itself. In the meantime, I was particularly taken with the way she handled a section of Mendelssohnian lightness; a machine gun of feathers couldn't have kept pace with Wang. She wisely told you which notes were important in a slow section that only obliquely refers to the melody.
She also performed Liszt transcriptions of three songs by Schubert, and a selection of Scriabin poems and etudes. But the most compelling personality arrived not until the encores. Scarlatti's G Major Sonata, K. 455, went at a pace considerably more manic than the "allegro" marking, but with euphoric results. Hands blurred in the Yuja Wang take on Volodos' arrangement of Mozart's "Turkish March." For any listener who remembers Horowitz as the supreme being in repertoire of this kind, here was his heir. She was, in this one piece, as a goddess.
- Peter Dobrin