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Pianist Joyce Yang
Wit and Winsome: Joyce Yang in Recital
By Gary R. Lemco
FORMER 2005 Silver Medalist at the Van Cliburn International Competition, pianist Joyce Yang, performed a highly successful recital at the Montalvo Arts Center, Sunday, April 15, 2012 in Saratoga, California. By the time Ms. Yang offered her one encore, an arrangement of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” she had more than beguiled a small but devoted audience with music by Beethoven, Chopin, Liebermann, and Schumann, works selected for their “bipolar” capacity to embrace contrasting sensibilities.
Yang opened with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3 (1802), an old but plastic warhorse to which Clara Haskil often proved her devotion. Despite a somewhat monochromatic first movement, Yang managed to balance Beethoven’s alternately declamatory and lyrically improvisatory style, its motivic kernel anticipatory of the four-beat Fifth Symphony germ. Even the ordinarily innocuous Alberti bass figures assumed a menace below the surface. Yang’s more colorful palette emerged to even better purpose in the 2/4 Scherzo, whose left hand had the benefit of sturdy staccati from Yang. The presentation of “many affects chasing one another” would seem to define the Classical style itself. The Menuetto provided the cantabile song of the work, while the final movement Presto allowed Yang the first of several moto perpetuo vehicles this evening, in which the keyboard became the iconoclast’s hammer, shattering many a Classical sacred cow.
Yang took the first, lento bars of the Chopin C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1 Nocturne (1841) very slowly, not quite losing the tensile thread of melody. The form soon expanded under Yang’s powerful hands, exploding into a tumultuous ballade, double time, of voluminous sonority, percussive but not ostentatious, potent and meaningfully dramatic. Yang returned to Chopin once more after the intermission—this time through Liszt—for the Chant polonaise My Joys, Op. 74, No. 5 (1837). Yang perhaps imbued too much rhetorical fervor into this rendition, more Liszt than Chopin, but loving and richly chromatic.
Ms. Yang, looking lithe and winsome in her sleek gown, introduced the Gargoyles, Op. 29 (1989) of Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961) as alternately demonic and “coquettish.” This virtuoso display piece has gained much credence over the years, having been originally commissioned by the Tcherepnin Society. In four sections, the suite plays as a toccata that borrows from Bartok, Liszt, Prokofiev, and Ravel. Certainly a test of digital prowess, the four pieces had Yang’s playing block chords, slides, cascading arpeggios, polyrhythms, and repeated notes at furious tempos. Its Adagio semplice section alluded both to Bartok’s “night music” and to Chopin’s E Minor Prelude. The repeated notes clearly invoked “Le Gibet” section from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, except we heard E-flats instead of B-flats. The watery moments suggested Jeux d’eau and Chopin’s A-flat Major Etude, Op. 25, No. 1, but without shedding its own, inflamed personality, luminous and dauntingly original.
At last, Ms. Yang introduced the music of Robert Schumann, “the most bi-polar composer of them all.” Yang had in mind Schumann’s Florestan/Eusebius personality dualism, his answer to Goethe’s claim that “many souls reside in my breast,” here specifically in his eight-movement suite Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 (1837). Ms. Yang, convinced that Eusebius, the dreamy one, has the last word, began with the lyric outpouring of the D-flat Major Des Abends, a serene nocturne in 2/8, imparting “the nostalgia of the dream” that informs the Schumann oeuvre. With the aggressive Aufschwung, the soaring motif of Florestan became even more “polarized” if we recall that Rose Hobart played this music just as her betrothed, Dr. Jekyll (Fredric March), broke off their engagement in Rouben Mamoulian’s 1931 version of the terror classic.
If Schumann asks, Warum? Yang asks Warum nicht? Grillen and Ende vom Lied boldly fused declamation and lyric passion with Schumann’s penchant for maerchen, fairy-tale marches in bold counterpoint and three-hand effects. Fabel and Traumes Wirren took us to the world of troubled childhood and eddying dreams, a world of Freud and Schubert’s Erlkönig, mixed together in an alchemical crucible of introspective musical ardor named Joyce Yang. ♫
Dr. Gary R. Lemco regularly contributes to
Classical Music Guide. He lives in California.
I can't resist a non-musical comment: I am very glad (for the piano) that the pianists I recently heard in concert, Garrick Ohlsson and Yefim Bronfman, did not attempt the same photo pose as Joyce Yang.
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