[We previewed this concert a couple weeks ago, and were hoping to file a quick review following the performance. Due to unforseen circumstances it’s a few days later than we’d like, but reviewer Eric Johnson came through in the end:]
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Xiayin Wang offered two world premieres on her May 18 recital at Alice Tully Hall. Ms. Wang’s career is on the rise, with a number of orchestral appearances, solo recitals, and her new CD release of music by Scriabin on Naxos. The New York Sun recently praised her for a “robust, confident performance,” attributes she displayed here as well. In addition to Haydn, Chopin, Ravel, Scriabin and Liszt, we heard Richard Danielpour’s Second Book of Preludes and Sean Hickey’s Cursive.
Danielpour says that “the Preludes are evocative memories of real life,” but no explicit narrative was provided for any of the seven movements. The opening “Persepolis” hinted strongly at neoclassical Stravinsky, followed by an angst-filled second movement, an “Elegy” resembling Barber, and a spastic rag. I was particularly fond of the straightforward appeal of “Elegy”; not only in the music but Wang’s performance. Simplicity can often create the most eloquent music, and that was surely the case here.
Sadly, I’m not sure anyone but Ms. Wang and Mr. Danielpour really know what the fifth prelude sounds like. Shortly after the beginning of the piece, a particularly rude audience member answered a phone call in the concert hall. She then proceeded to walk out very slowly, talking in a stage whisper all the while. It’s fair to say that the pianist was the only one not glaring at her!
Sean Hickey has firmly grounded his career in jazz and chamber music, as well as composing for film and theatre. Hickey’s notes for Cursive speak of a desire to write seamlessly, a “mostly unbroken line,” but to these ears it was anything but seamless. The piece was filled with seemingly unrelated ideas — more like sketches than cursive calligraphy. Yet Ms. Wang gave a compelling performance, tying the loose threads together. Wang’s enthusiasm and daring shone clearly in her commitment to these two living composers’ pieces.
The standard repertoire was engaging too, every selection displayed wonderfully. Indeed, the most exciting portion of the program was the final movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. Ms. Wang practically lifted herself off the bench as she pounded out Ravel’s exotic, even sultry depiction of Scarbo’s moonlit flight. A complimetary highlight was Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F Major – a thing of rare beauty, played most delicately. ~~ Eric Johnson