When last we heard pianist YinFei Wang, three Augusts ago, it was not always the happiest outcome, tending to the tight. But Tuesday night at Walnut Hill’s Keiter Center, in his Chinese Performance Arts Foundation recital, Wang, who turns 30 this year, showed some of the artistic expansion one always hopes for.
Wang now presents himself more like an old master, nobly walking onstage and commencing straightaway, here with three Scarlatti appetizers. Not superclean (and with a “sweetness that was more sentiment than reflection”, as Jim McDonald nicely put it of Wang two years ago), not notably shapely, with attacks and releases uncrisp, they nonetheless did feature a burnished sort of Edwin Fischer ebb and flow. Little to do with the 1740s almost certainly, and everything to do with the 1920s.
It’s unusual to schedule Beethoven Opus 111 right after warmup, but that majestic peak seems a favored Wang hike, from C minor to major, from impatience through heartstopping anxiety to exhaled triumph. Wang’s was a solid and dramatic effort, with the Arietta’s stately song, after the strong drama of the first movement, beginning at a good tempo, although eventually this second movement’s pulse wound up rather lost. Wang in general does sometimes seem to wander, emotionally and otherwise.
When he clearly focused, for instance on lefthand lines in a given variation, he often brought less attention to forward motion than to harmony—not surprising from a Manhattan College student of the famously analytic, apparently vertically oriented Phillip Kawin, whose own performances are like that. The Opus 111 boogie variation had drive except when cornering. Maybe Wang needs to find material that excites him constantly. The fourth variation’s 3-in-the-morning life crises mostly just lay there, without enough tension. Which meant that the relieving, post-crisis exultations and runs also lacked feathery lightness, also that the truly transcendent, triumphantly clanging, powerfully built-up last pages did not ring out fully.
Beethoven’s concluding chord was as plain and short and dry as could be. Okay, hike over, back to the flatlands.
All these choices seemed interpretative, not failures to execute.
After intermission a rather different pianist strolled out, smiling to friends’ whoops, relaxing to dive into Carl Vine’s Toccatissimo. A 61-year-old Australian, Vine has done a lot of composing in dance and theater as well as absolutely, and is so accessible and updated-Bernstein in his sound that he surely should be a fixture in piano recitals. This work featured big, not too dissonant chords, big runs, little runs, hands chasing each other, lots of coming together and driving apart, and was altogether pretty cool. One sensed that perhaps more could have been done with it, a not uncommon feeling with Wang, but he played it immaculately and at moments almost tore into it, even as that’s not much in his temperament.
In the closer, Chopin’s Sonata 3, you would not much have recognized Leon Golub’s description of the same work a night later. Wang’s performance was not huge (a first), actually chamberlike in some respects, clearly lit, with lots of polyphony, which everyone reads about regarding Chopin but seldom hears. Wang never truly played out, as delicacy was his achievement. He traded thunder and lightning and drive for a pleasing x-ray musicality. Transitions did sound newly explicated; the Largo fragmented à la Schumann, and the Finale started soft! To my ear it all felt 7/8-baked, the last finishing touches not yet settled. And again his hands and fingers were not perfectly clean or always together in attacks and at measure starts. The effect was slightly hesitant, at best probing, but at worst causing small starts and fits—noty, almost static, unurgent. That said, I admired it more than enjoyed it, and it was so unusual I would like to study a recording.