Monday, February 27, 2006

Pianist Joyce Yang

Last June, 19-year-old Korean-born, Juilliard-trained Joyce Yang lit up the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, winning the silver medal, two additional awards and the hearts of many who followed her race to the finals. On Friday at Wolf Trap, both her prodigious technique and her effervescent personality were on display.

Yang chose music that earned her fame at the Cliburn: J.S. Bach's Overture in the French Style, Carl Vine's Sonata No. 1, Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 and Chopin's Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise.

Playing Bach, she proportioned the overture with gravitas and elegance, and her sarabande was compassionate. The actual dance movements, however, called for more lilt.

Yang's great passion is the Vine sonata, from 1990. It's a virtuosic menagerie of polyrhythms, dancing bleeps and dark romance -- a heady cocktail of Rachmaninoff mixed with Michael Nyman. Yang spoke of her love for the sonata, then played it like she owned it -- a thrilling performance of a brilliantly entertaining piece.

The rest of the program was less successful. Nikolai Medtner's "Sonata Reminiscenza" is finally getting some much-deserved attention, but Yang rushed through it, smearing many of the delicate inner voicings, and generally misjudging Medtner's subtle brand of intricate melancholy.

Yang's Chopin also contained mixed messages. The Polonaise had pomp, but the Andante's elastic, singing melodies became mechanical. She closed with an appropriately rambunctious Liszt, which got the audience cheering for a young artist clearly on her way to a promising career.

-- Tom Huizenga

Guitarist Dale Kavanagh

Guitarist Dale Kavanagh has taken the art of the pianissimo to a new level. Many fine guitarists can speak powerfully in a quiet voice, but Kavanagh, who performed at Westmoreland Congregational Church on Saturday, built a whole program around contemporary compositions that seem to revel in intimacy, and played each one with an impressive arsenal of subtleties and textures. She was able to project even the most intricate arpeggio phrases with absolute transparency and to slice the dynamic span from pianissimo to mezzo-piano into astonishingly small gradations.

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