A chilly autumn breeze had Santa Feans walking briskly on their way to the Lensic Performing Arts Center on the evening of Oct. 10, but the weather proved almost balmy compared to what awaited inside: a recital by the pianist Yuja Wang, who encased even the fervent outpourings of Chopin in a block of ice. Her appearance, made possible by the Santa Fe Concert Association, was much anticipated. She is one of the most assiduously marketed pianists of her generation — she was born in 1987— and her delight in projecting a provocative persona supplies her managers and recording company (Deutsche Grammophon) with plenty of fuel to stoke the flames of publicity. Her technical facility is remarkable by any accounting. She is attracted to works that make daunting demands of virtuosity, and she characteristically renders them fleetly, accurately, and transparently.
So it was that she etched Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 with bright hyper-clarity. This is sometimes cited as the most technically challenging of all his works. Wang had no trouble leaping its hurdles even in the demanding last movement, which unrolls when, for some pianists, stamina may be fading. Chopin marked that finale Presto non tanto (very fast, not too much so), and to her credit, Wang did not overstep his directive even though her facility surely would have enabled her to whistle like the wind. Her interpretation moved at what seemed just the right pace, and she avoided the galumphing, unintentionally comical quality that many pianists allow to overtake the movement’s principal theme. One could admire how deftly she put every note in its place and yet remain unmoved by a score that, in other hands, may seem a torrent of anguish, terror, or panic that finally resolves in giddiness. Of the Sonata’s four movements, the most successful was the scherzo, in which Wang’s fingerwork navigated the fountains of leaping and falling figuration while respecting the composer’s instruction to play leggiero (lightly). Whether she played the movement’s trio section at the notated dynamic of piano (soft) is another question. Gradations of dynamics are subjective, but I did not hear in her whole recital more than a precious few notes I would have guessed to be piano or quieter still than that. On the other hand, Wang does not bang at the keyboard. She cultivates a tone that is bright but not harsh and that she appears to generate mostly from her lower arms and from the muscular attack of her wrists and hands, which she positions a touch on the low side, almost parallel to the keyboard.
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