in: Reviews

January 16, 2010

Xiayin Wang’s Rocket Launched in Boston Debut

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“A budding star” was the lead for Greater Boston’s Jared Bowen in his interview this past week with Xiayin Wang. If you missed that one you might have caught another on NECN or gotten wind somehow of the young Chinese pianist’s Boston debut at Jordan Hall that took place on Friday, January 15. In a few words, Wang launched rocket upon rocket with one nearly going through the roof in her concluding piece, Ravel’s La Valse. I cannot remember ever hearing so much sound come from a piano in New England Conservatory’s revered hall, which held up to each and every volley.

Amplifying a bit on Ms. Wang’s La Valse, for me it truly was a wonder and surprise and, judging from the heads I saw turning around me, it appeared that everyone in the audience was right there with her, many of them with looks of disbelief on their faces. This happened near the end of the piece, a much-loved piece much more familiar to most of us in its symphonic version. Perhaps a full orchestra was in her mind.

The power in evidence everywhere in her performance Friday night, though, should not be measured without consideration of the element of speed. Clearly, she possesses that, too. In measure upon measure of torturous tremolos in Scriabin’s Vers la Flame she played with both remarkable strength and velocity. You would think that these sky-high expenditures of energy would have been fatiguing, but there was no sign of such at any time during her auspicious program.

During her appearance on the Greater Boston show, Ms. Wang talked about how she practiced, revealing some interesting approaches she takes to her daily preparation. She spends some six hours a day practicing, though not all of it is at the piano. She believes that when she can go through a whole piece—from beginning to end—entirely in her mind while sitting away from the piano, then, she “really knows it.” She also told Jared Bowen that she keeps muscle building to a limit. Too much muscle and you lose “flexibility,” she said.

Delicacy in her muscular performance of Debussy’s L’isle Joyeuse (Island of Joy) took a back seat to power. There are less than a handful of forte markings in the score. The final pages are marked fortissimo with crescendos. Too much power throughout paralyzed the closing climax. The same occurred in Vers la Flame, a piece built all around a long crescendo leading to a final ecstatic, Scriabinesque climax. Fewer contrasts than usually heard in Chopin’s Nocturne no. 13 in C Minor were also a result of powerhouse playing. While Xiayin Wang’s highly accurate and dynamic pianism was always engaging in some way or another, more flow, more contrast and, in particular, considerably more softness are necessary—in two words: less power.

When delicacy did surface, as it did especially in passages from the first of Two Poemes, Op. 32 of Scriabin, Andante Cantabile, rare exquisiteness caught the ear. Too quickly, though, after the opening phrases of the Adagio from Haydn’s last sonata, Sonata No. 52, E-Flat Major, she took to power moves that were at times jarring. The Bach-Marcello Concerto in D Minor, BWV 974 was another welcome exception. In contrast to the rocketing, highly charged outer fast movements, Xiayin Wang brought light and lightness much of the time to the interior slow movement. With her encore, Autumn Light Over Moonlit Lake, originally for erhu (Chinese violin), came lovely softness overall.

Enchanted Garden, Preludes Book II by Richard Danielpour was also on the program.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and Chairman of the Department at U. Mass Boston for the past 15 years, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. Also a composer, he lives in Watertown.

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