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Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010

Joyce Yang Lends Talent to Top MSO Performance

Classical Review

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Talent does not come any bigger than that possessed by pianist Joyce Yang. She grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to the United States at a young age to study at Juilliard. At 19 she won the silver medal at the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, and has since established an international career. Edo de Waart is one of her champions, performing with her not only with Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, but also in concerts in Australia and Asia.

Last Saturday night Yang was soloist with MSO in Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Technique was perfectly balanced with artistry in her playing. Every phrase and musical gesture was completely realized, to thrilling result. Yang found a multitude of colors on the MSO Steinway, more than any other pianist since its acquisition a couple of seasons ago. There was both rhythmic vitality and elegance in all she did. Her potent imagination as an interpreter led to unexpected but welcome imprints of individuality. Rather than relaxing for an encore she gave the smitten audience the ferocious, driving final movement of Lowell Liebermann’s Gargoyles (1989).

The music of Sergei Rachmaninoff was always popular, but misguidedly dismissed by many in the middle decades of the 20th century as being hopelessly old-fashioned. In more recent times most have dispensed with snobbery and surrendered to an uncomplicated love of his music. This all-Rachmaninoff program, conducted by de Waart, began with the tone poem The Isle of the Dead, brooding with atmosphere. He expertly paced the climaxes, landing in at least one lush spot on this forbidding island.

De Waart’s approach to romantic music focuses on orchestral fundamentals and techniques, balance and rhythmic energy, but not at the expense of the oftentimes achingly long lines of Rachmaninoff’s music. Patient restraint pays off with carefully chosen moments of release. Vocalise was lovely in every way. Symphonic Dances (1940), one of the last pieces by the composer, came fully to life. The MSO rose to its best playing yet this season. Even so, it feels like a transitional edition of this excellent orchestra, headed somewhere beyond its status quo.
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