Oct. 25, 2014

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Yuja-Wang
Yuja Wang’s hands are made for piano playing.

Joy Ride

SFCMF’s season departs with finesse and cheer

August 25, 2010, 1:00 am
Please. Don’t get me started on standing ovations. They’ve become practically de rigueur these days: self-conscious, semi-obligatory up-standings, generally after the artists emerge for a second bow. Without spontaneity, what’s the point? (I don’t get those arms-in-the-air applauders, either. Is this a revival or what?)

But there’s a place for the real thing: The music stops, the audience jumps up, claps like mad, bravos crazily, whistles (don’t try this in France) and stomps its collective foot. That’s a standing ovation. That’s what met Yuja Wang as she rose from the piano after her demonic Aug. 17 noon recital.

Schumann, Scriabin, Prokofiev, with a taste of Liszt for dessert: It’s all about virtuoso pianism, and Wang made a meal of it. The Three Fantasy Pieces (Op. 111) show the rhapsodic, over-the-top Schumann in two florid outer pieces surrounding a central, quietly introspective movement. Wang played as if possessed, her sound enormous when required, but equally capable of superb delicacy and finesse.

The Scriabin offerings, five brief works from the Preludes, Etudes and Pomes, again provided opportunities for pianistic grandeur contrasting with limpid quietness. Wang made us feel that each piece was an improvisation, presented with inspired touch and refined pedaling.

Prokofiev’s 1936 Fourth Piano Sonata, the first of his three so-called “War Sonatas,” encompasses many moods: percussive violence, unstoppable rhythms, a waltz of end-of-the-world weariness, the composer’s distinctive mockery and cynicism. An anti-Stalinist document? Very likely. Wang presented the complexities and perplexities of the sonata with splendid clarity, passion and technical brilliance. Her encore, Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” was a model of fleet precision.

The Aug. 19 concert turned out to be, in tennis vernacular, a series of doubles matches: a Leclair sonata for two violas; Frank Bridge’s 1912 “Lament,” again for a pair of violas; Bartók’s “Contrasts,” with the piano so inaudible as to make the piece a duo for violin and clarinet; and the Mendelssohn Octet, a couple of string quartets. The Bridge work made a particularly strong impression, a dark eulogy for an unrecoverable past and a startling premonition of Elgar’s Cello Concerto seven years in the future. Lily Francis and Michael Tree were the splendid soloists.

The evening finished with a rousing, take-no-prisoners reading of the Octet that evidently gave as much pleasure to the performers as to the audience, judging from the smiles, winks, nods and nudges exchanged onstage. The magnificent eight: violinists B Kim, B Hristova, G Schmidt, H Nightengale; violists Tree and Francis; cellists G Hoffman and E Kim.

For me, and with regrets, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival’s season shut down on Aug. 22 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center with a generous, high-spirited program that opened with Moritz Moszkowski’s Suite in G Minor (Op. 71) for two violins and piano. Not often heard, although Perlman and Zukerman made it a specialty, it’s a classy little salon piece with nary a thought in its pretty head, especially when played, as here, with effortless charm and affection by pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion and violinists Schmidt and Hristova.

Meat and potatoes followed: the grandly-scaled Brahms Sonata No. 2 in F Major (Op. 99) with cellist Lynn Harrell and Wang. A ripe work, almost autumnal in its questings and turnings, the sonata benefited from an authoritative reading, loaded with assured nuance.

 Tchaikovsky’s familiar string sextet, “Souvenir de Florence” (Op. 70), completed the program. It’s always sounded a lot more Slavic than Southern to me and, with this piece in particular, I’ve regretted portamento’s fall from grace. But never mind. The ensemble—violins B Kim and Nightengale, violists Tree and Francis, cellists Harrell and Hoffman—took it for a cheerful ride.

 

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