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BWW Review: Yuja Wang And Leonidas Kavakos At Carnegie Hall


BWW Review: Yuja Wang And Leonidas Kavakos At Carnegie Hall

Public expectation always runs high when a Yuja Wang concert is announced. Her New York appearances are almost exclusively presented at Carnegie Hall. The public runs to buy tickets in anticipation of an evening of chills, thrills, and unexpected joy.

This Chinese virtuoso, born in Beijing and educated at Calgary's Royal Conservatory and Philadelphia's Curtis School of Music, does not fail her audiences. Ms. Wang is a pianist's pianist. Watch her arms as they float in mid-air, even during the most percussive passages. Entrances come from the ether and releases go back to it. See how each note receives clean articulation. Hear the exquisite nuance of her playing. There is no sense of "banging" on the piano. All of her power, and there's a huge amount of it coming out of this petite person, comes from her back as well as her whole body. She is a pleasure not only to hear but to watch as well.

Her partner for her concert on February 6, 2019 at Carnegie Hall was violinist Leonidas Kavakos. Born to a musical family in Athens, Mr.Kavakos is an artist of the highest caliber. He and Ms.Wang are frequent collaborators in concert and on recordings. There is such a rapport between them that an easy flow of ideas and emotions inform all of their performances. It's a perfect pairing.

The program consisted of four major works for violin and piano. In Johannes Brahms' (1833-1897) Violin Sonata No.2 in A major (from 1886), the piano and violin were equal partners in making the music come to life, by turns complex and rhythmically tricky and then tender and transparent. Both parts were tremendously difficult. The coordination between players must be precise in every way. Mr. Kavakos and Ms. Wang had this down to a science, yet their sense of musical line and expression was never outshone by their formidable technical abilities. This was deeply profound and emotionally moving playing.

Completed in 1946, Sergei Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No.1 in F Minor, Op.80 gave Mr. Kavakos slightly more opportunity to display his fabulous musicianship than in the Brahms. However, it was still an equal show with Ms.Wang. Prokofiev (1891-1953) composed a sometimes thorny, mostly lyrical four- movement piece that must have pleased the Russian regime at the time (this wasn't always the case with his music). The music was remarkable because of the dynamic demands placed on both performers, who were certainly up for the challenge. They both had to play pianissisimo (a sound level almost inaudible to the human ear) yet had to keep the melodic and harmonic lines from disappearing. The audience, which had many "coughers", was so rapt that not a sneeze, cough, or candy wrapper could be heard. Ms. Wang and Mr. Kavakos had the audience spellbound and breathless. In the middle of winter in New York, this is not an easy feat.

An entirely different mood suffused Béla Bartók's (1881-1945) Rhapsody in G minor for Violin and Piano, composed in 1928. Bartók's absorption of his native Hungary's folk music pervaded this piece. Pianists were strongly reminded of his Sonatina, which also incorporates the percussive sounds and drones of traditional Hungarian music. Both performers had moments of sizzle and excitement in this brief composition.

The final work on the program was the Violin Sonata in E flat Major, Op.18 by Richard Strauss (1864-1949). This piece, again making the pianist the full partner of the violinist, was replete with the delicious, rich and full sounds for which Strauss was famous.

Written while the composer was still in his twenties, the Sonata explores the breadth of human emotions and the full range of the instruments' capabilities. It allows both musicians to work together to create a shimmering, ethereal, yet exciting work of art. Ms. Wang and Mr. Kavakos did not disappoint and their exhilarating finale brought the audience to their feet. No one seemed to mind the rain as they streamed out of Carnegie Hall, the wondrous music they had just heard still ringing in their ears.

This concert is part of Yuja Wang's Perspectives series. Her next performance will be on Monday, February 11,2019 with the comedy duo of Igudesman and Joo. The concert takes place in Zankel Hall at 7:30 pm. There is limited availability for tickets. For further information, call the box office at 212-247-7800.

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