Pianist Yuja Wang astounds in San Francisco performance

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At only 27 years old, Yuja Wang has received unprecedented praise for her talents as a classical pianist. Her captivating stage presence has allowed her to travel to symphony halls throughout Asia, Europe and North America. On Dec. 1, Wang returned to Davies Symphony Hall for her third recital under San Francisco Performances. She flawlessly played a collection of Schubert pieces, followed by works by Alexander Scriabin and Mily Balakirev.

Before taking the seat at the Steinway, Wang bows deeply for her audience, beginning the show as she would eventually end it. The first portion of the concert includes arrangements by Franz Liszt, who created the solo piano arrangements for about 60 of Schubert’s works. Wang begins with compositions from his Schwanengesang collection, including “Liebesbotschaft” and “Aufenthalt,” then moves to “Der Muller und der Bach” from Die schone Mullerin.

“Lievesbotschaft” translates into “A Message of Love,” the message being a love song to a brook that acts as a messenger between lovers. It begins with the fluttering, melodic sound of the right hand aside the lower keys of the left. Wang’s hands effortlessly cross over one another, immediately proving her grace and unparalleled composition. She then moves to “Aufenthalt,” which means “resting place” — a contradictory title considering its dramatic, crashing chords.

The image of the brook appears again in “Der Muller und der Bach,” when a young miller who wishes to commit suicide consults the brook. Fitting this more somber theme, the composition is slower and more melancholic, even mimicking the sound of flowing water. This final Liszt translation comes to an end as her hands wander to the lowest scale.

Wang then masters one of Schubert’s final sonatas, “Piano Sonata in A Major.” The arrangement rapidly oscillates between serenity and turmoil, allowing for Wang to further prove her versatility. The first section, “Allegro,” opens with firm, assertive strokes that transform into light, quick flutterings and muted high notes. After coursing through dreamy melodies, the song concludes with a slow, quiet coda.

“Andante,” written in ternary form, returns the performance to a melancholic and ominous theme, though it does not stay there for long. Halfway through the piece, Wang moves to fury. Her fingers move hastily across the keys and are highlighted by her passionate body jerks. After the climax, Wang returns to the controlled pace with which she began. She then concludes the sonata with its final pieces, “Scherzo: Allegro vivace” and “Rondo: Allegretto.”

After the intermission, Wang returns for her selections of Scriabin, all of which include a heavier use of the pedals. The first composition, “Prelude in C-sharp Minor for the Left Hand,” mesmerized the audience. While creating the composition, Scriabin injured his right hand, leaving him to write the piece solely for his left in order to allow for his recovery. Without seeing the performance, it would be assumed that the trying arrangement would include the meticulousness of both hands.

Wang progresses through “Prelude in F-sharp Minor” and the rhythmic complexities of “Fantasy in B Minor” before playing the pensive melodies of “Prelude in B-flat Minor.” In the latter piece, Wang trails off, breaking the composition into fragments before it arrives at its climax. The pianist ends the Scriabin compilation with “Poemes” and “Piano Sonata No. 9,” or “Messe Noire.”

In the final portion, Wang plays Balakirev’s “Islamey,” subtitled “Oriental Fantasy” to highlight the influence the Far East had on its creation. Her hands have to stretch to reach the chords that pass with an unbelievable tempo. After “Islamey,” Wang returned to the stage for two encores: the first, Schumann-Tausig’s “El Contrabandista” — the second, Chopin’s “Waltz in C-sharp Minor.”

Rather than appearing even slightly exhausted from her two-hour solo performance, Wang instead looked invigorated, as if she could continue well into the night.

Yuja Wang will return to Davies Symphony Hall in the spring of 2015

Sasha Chebil covers music. Contact her at [email protected].