|[Philharmonic review coming Sunday morning]|
PIANIST JOYCE YANG SETS THE STANDARD
Lorenz guest delivers a complete and awe-inspiring show.
Open letter from George Warren:
Thank you, Joyce Yang, for presenting a perfect recital in Fresno on Friday. By “perfect” I mean every detail met the highest standard, from technique to expression, from demeanor to dress. Every pianist who has visited Fresno in the last ten years can learn something from your presentation.
By George Warren - February 6, 2010
The Philip Lorenz Concert Series and a number of Korean organizations in Fresno presented 2005 Van Cliburn silver medalist Joyce Yang in recital Friday in the Concert Hall at Fresno State, and the performance was astonishing from beginning to end.
First, Yang covered a wide range of styles, beginning with four brief sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. These very sparse works demand immaculate technique and clear rhythmic vision from the player. And they are fast, so one cannot linger over textures while building steam for the next challenging passage.
Yang has all the technique to make these look easy, but her ability to articulate the melody notes and distinguish them from the accompanying notes showed her command of the style period. In addition, she carried the rhythm with a brilliant sense of phrase and time. She found the heart of the music and let it speak.
With Beethoven’s Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 31 no. 3, Yang shifted gears and entered a much later style period. Here, she took liberty with the rhythm, pushing and pulling as the expression suggested. That there were no flaws is beside the point; she played with a measure of expression, but she did not overplay. Like with Scarlatti, she seemed to have a clear sense of the score and found no need to infuse her playing with extra emotion or showmanship.
In terms of tone, one heard a moderately wide range of dynamics, and her touch is so light that it seemed as if the pianissimo passages were animated more by the motion of her fingers than by the actual pressing of the keys. What resulted, however, was a thrilling sound with a couple of clunky notes here and there, and one wondered whether that particular note was out of tune on the piano or if she just hadn’t polished that one like the others. This contrast cannot be discerned from very many players.
The story of the show, however, was the display of Carl Vine’s Sonata No. 1 by Joyce Yang. Two things are going on here. First, there is work by a living composer; second there is a pianist presenting the work.
Carl Vine, from Australia, has been composing for a long time, and his works include several piano sonatas, seven symphonies, dance music, film music, and concertos. This work, from 1990, shows dazzling imagination for the keyboard. One hears ideas distilled from the music of Messiaen and Carter, but it is transformed into its own style. The music is not built thematically, and one does not leave the hall whistling the tunes. This music is textural, with melody weaving through the shimmering and exploding textures. This score requires every imaginable technique from the pianist: speed, accuracy, wide dynamic range, the carrying of multiple textures in one hand, simultaneous opposing articulations between hands, and the list goes on. This work was entertaining and thought-provoking throughout both movements.
To this point in the show, Yang had demonstrated command of baroque and late classical/early romantic piano technique. With the Vine, she had an opportunity to show off. The work begins slowly and formlessly, putting the listener in doubt about whether anything good is going to happen. After about a minute, there is an accelerando, and then the music bursts out into a spellbinding texture with hands going at top speed and a few notes standing out as melody.
Throughout this movement, Yang was able to manage the speed and articulate each note in the midst of the fury. She did not lose anything in a wash of sustain pedal; every note was set with precision and care.
Then in the second movement, she did something that I could not see from my seat: the left hand played a figure very fast and constantly at the low end of the keyboard, and the right hand did something similar at the other end. But there was a third figure in the middle that was obviously being played by the right hand as well, but it sounded too far away to be possible. This movement may be cited as proof that there are still ideas to be invented for the piano and musicians able to manage them. Music did not end with Brahms.
After the intermission, this perfect program continued with more new music, Gargoyles by Lowell Liebermann, and it ended with Schumann’s Carnaval, Op. 9. The Liebermann was more formal than the Vine (which by contrast may be characterized as wild, untamed), and in it Yang made beauty out of dissonance.
With Schumann’s twenty-one movements, Yang found a narrative shape that made sense out of too many ideas as a whole, and she completed her tour of the major style periods with clear mastery of each period.