Richardson — Pianist Joyce Yang presented a recital Saturday evening at Richardson’s St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church, under the auspices of Music Director Philip Lewis’ Chamber Music International series. Kicking off CMI’s 33rd season, this weekend’s recital showed Joyce Yang to be one of the finest all-around pianists of her generation, with a sensitive touch and a thoughtful approach.
She opened her program with a trio of Rachmaninoff Preludes: Op. 32, No. 12 in G-sharp Minor; Op. 23, No. 4 in D Major; and Op. 3 No. 2 in C-sharp minor. The C-sharp minor Prelude, in Yang’s hands, was somber and even ominous without slipping into lugubriousness. Yang never let the tempo slow overmuch, and her careful but not fussy phrasing kept the mood on point.
The first half of the program continued with the seldom heard Sonata 1.X.1905 of Leoš Janáček. It’s now a two-movement sonata; according to Yang’s remarks from the stage, Janáček destroyed the third movement. The two surviving movements, marked “Foreboding” and “Death,” are just as cheery as they sound—more melodic but no less dramatic than some of Janáček’s better-known orchestral music such as the “Sinfonietta.” Here as in the Rachmaninoff, Yang’s control and her attentiveness to detail were impressive.
There must be at least one flashy showpiece on a recital program such as this one, and Yang chose to end the first half with hers: Lizst’s Spanish Rhapsody. Inspired by a tour of Spain and Portugal, the piece contains many Spanish themes, and at least as many technical challenges, which Yang overcame with seeming ease.
After intermission was an American premiere by the 24-year-old Australian composer Elizabeth Younan. Yang admitted to getting the piece only a month before its Australian premiere, and she shared that she spent five hours a day on the piece for those 30 days to learn it, due to its difficulty. While Younan may well have fully intended every technical challenge, it’s also a common pitfall for young composers inadvertently to make their pieces unplayable by all but the most virtuosic of performers. Whatever the case here, this sonata is in three connected movements, with the traditional form of moderate-slow-fast. The slow movement, while atonal, was lyrical. Yang’s attention to phrasing, again, gave the audience of first-time listeners a sense of the movement’s shape. The final movement was a technically formidable obstacle, though one that Yang easily cleared. This is a listenable sonata, but certainly a more accessible one to hear than to play.
Lizst’s lone piano sonata, in B Minor, closed Yang’s two-hour-plus recital. The sonata, clocking in at 35 minutes, is a massive four-movement work that requires every possible pianistic skill. Yang made herself appealingly vulnerable in her spoken remarks by sharing her hesitation in learning this piece. It’s easy to see why—it is an enormous undertaking for any pianist. Yang’s was stellar—her playing athletic and vibrant. Some dynamics were a bit much in St. Barnabas’ acoustics, but even so, Yang was never crashing about on the keyboard. She is a delightfully musical performer, and we are lucky that she makes such regular visits to the Dallas area.