Monday, May 8, 2017

Tony Yike Yang Rocks the House

On Sunday I attended a piano recital by Tony Yike Yang at Macalester College. Yang was a substitute for another pianist who had injured her arm. Yang, eighteen years old, proved again that virtuosity can be obtained at a very early age. His performance was one of the very best recitals put on by the Chopin Society. Other than Daniil Trifonov's tour-de-force of late 2012, I cannot recall a more stunning performance at a Chopin Society recital.

Great Seat!

Yang entered the stage wearing black, including a shiny black shirt with silver buttons down the front. He dove into the Scarlatti. His performance was impeccable--but nothing unusual so far.

Then he hit us with a profound interpretation of the Chopin B-flat Minor Sonata, the "Funeral March Sonata." Right from the start of the first movement his playing was engaging, precise, and contained great depth. His pedal use seemed superb. He was able to layer the sounds in a way that was interesting and well thought out. 

While performing he is more active than many pianists, more Lang Lang than Pollini. He occasionally elevates himself off the stool when striking a heavy chord and contorts his face to match the expressions we would expect to encounter during evocative passages. For instance, he seemed to be almost crying during the striking moment in the third movement--the movement containing the famous funeral march--when the sweet, high legato melody enters. It's a heartbreaking moment and his facial expressions were fitting. This is a wonderful passage and I was really struck by Yang's playing at this point. The first time through the melody its beauty was just crushing. The second time through it seemed a bit of the hurt had gone away through the passage of time. 

Then Yang performed Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 7. And it was simply spectacular. Precise. Fluid. Motoric. This will no doubt be a key piece for his upcoming performance at the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, at which he has been selected to be one of the thirty participants. Unlike many performances of Prokofiev's piano pieces, Yang's interpretation was never sloppy. 

After the intermission, Yang offered up a powerful interpretation of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. What is there to say about pianism of the highest order? With the exception of one very, very slight twang upon the release of a pedal, the performance of this piece seemed spotless. And it was powerful.

The audience was in good form. Minimal coughing. Deserved standing ovations after the Prokofiev and the Mussorgsky. It is clear that the musical cognoscenti are found in St. Paul, not Venice. Unfortunately, in contradistinction to the last recital I reviewed, Yang offered no encores. 

Yang is very gifted. It will be interesting to see how he does at the upcoming Van Cliburn competition.

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Ten Recommended Classical Recordings: A Sampler for Those New to the Classical Scene

The following is a list of classical recordings that offer a variety of classical genres: opera, symphonies, keyboard, violin concerto, solo cello, piano concerto, and oratorio. Though it is mostly mainstream with respect to the represented composers, it reflects a variety of interesting sounds.

Because the list is intended for someone who is starting to explore classical music many of the recordings are now budget issues. If you have thoughts on the list or would like to pipe in with your own, please do!

1. Mozart: The Magic Flute; Sir Colin Davis, conductor, Staatskapelle Dresden, orchestra; Rundfunkchor Leipzig, choir; Moll, Schreier, Price, Serra, Melbye, Venuti; Philips Duo, recorded in 1985, released on CD in 1994.

2. Beethoven: Symphonies No. 5 and 7, Carlos Kleiber, Wiener Philharmoniker; Deutsche Grammophon, recorded in 1975 and 1976, released on CD in 1996.

3. Bach: Keyboard Pieces, Toccata, BWV 911; Partita BWV 826; English Suite No. 2, BWV 807; Argerich; Deutsche Grammophon, recorded in 1980, released on CD in 2000.

4. Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D; Brahms: Violin Concerto in D; Jascha Heifetz; Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra; RCA, recorded in 1957, released on SACD in 2005.

5. Panorama—Edvard Grieg, two discs of various piano and orchestral works; Deutsche Grammophon Panorama, recorded on various dates, released on CD in 2000.

6. Bach: Six Unaccompanied Suites for Cello; Yo-Yo Ma; Sony, recorded in 1983, released on CD in 1990.

7. Mozart: The Great Piano Concertos, Vol. I—Brendel; Sir Neville Mariner, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; Philips Duo, recorded in 1972-82, released on CD in 1994.

8. Handel: The Messiah; Sir Colin Davis, London Philharmonic Orchestra; Philips Duo, recorded in 1966, released on CD in 1994.

9. Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 and Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1; Martha Argerich, Philips, recorded 1982 and 1980, released on CD in 1995.

10. Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-4 (separate disc one); and Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 5-6 and Orchestral Suite No. 1 (separate disc two), Neville Marriner, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; EMI, recorded in 1985, released on CD in 2004.