by | Nov 30, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

Joyce Yang: “Collage” = SCARLATTI: Sonata in D Minor, K. 9; Sonata in D Minor, K. 141; CURRIER: Scarlatti Cadences; Brainstorm; DEBUSSY: Estampes; LIEBERMANN: Gargoyles, Op. 29; SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9 – Joyce Yang, piano – Avie AV2229, 77:28 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
Korean virtuoso Joyce Yang, a former Silver Medalist at the 2005 Van Cliburn Competition, has assembled a recital (rec. 31 May-3 June 2011) that wants to exploit the visual arts, via artwork by Joan Snyder featured in the accompanying booklet, as a testament to Yang’s self-confessed synesthesia. The selected pieces mean to cast reflective nuances upon each other, as do the individual Scarlatti sonatas and their transformations via the alternately ephemeral and driving impulses parodied in Sebastian Currier (b. 1959). Clearly articulate and feathery in Scarlatti‘s sweet arpeggios and tripping figures, Yang can also punch out brilliant runs and repeated notes with driven fury. Currier has the piano chime like patio ornaments, the more dancing figures a combination of Scarlatti, Webern, and jazz riffs. Brainstorm plays as a busy toccata in percussive staccati and block chords, the harmony ambiguous and the colors clashing. As performed by Yang, the piece assumes a kind of clarity we might ascribe to the influence of Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso.
Debussy’s sensual contours, especially in the opening Pagodes from his Estampes Suite, make a decidedly sensuous contrast with the preceding Brainstorm, an effect likely anticipated by Yang. La Soiree dans Grenades transfers sounds, sights, and olfactory stimuli to the keyboard, and Yang revels in its erotic wash of Iberian colors. If her performance lacks subtlety, it has passion and conscientious detail. The concluding Jardins sous la pluie seems to point to the opening of the Children’s Corner Suite for its repeated figures and rising scales, capturing gardens in and after the rain, peppered with sunshine and the frolic of youth. Yang wants Lowell Liebermann’s (b. 1961) 1989 set of four Gargoyles to parallel movement in Debussy, the Liebermann etudes alternately florid and eerie, after their models from Gothic architecture. The Adagio semplice seems to have less in common with Debussy than with Chopin’s asymmetrical A Minor Prelude. The Allegro moderato exploits the legato capacities of the keyboard in rather Lisztian figures whose delicacy might equally point to Scriabin and to Chopin’s A-flat Etude from Op. 25. The Presto feroce conclusion means to bust knuckles in the form of a savage tarantella that takes its cues from various toccatas by Khachaturian and Prokofiev.
With the final offering, Schumann’s ubiquitous 1835 Carnaval suite, Yang traverses familiar territory, but she accounts herself well, in strong and genuinely poetic terms. Given Yang’s predilection for games and musical puzzles, it surprises us she did not includes the whole-tone Sphinxes as part of the set. The performance enjoys great verve, a taut sense of continuity, and the preservation of the various characters from literature, Schumann’s own love life, and the commedia dell’arte as represented in the imaginative writings of Jean-Paul Richter. Piano sound, courtesy of recording and editing engineer Dirk Sobotka, conveys solid bass and upper register without incurring a harsh after-bite. The venue—Mary Flagler Hall at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, New York—singularly adds to the brightly warm ambiance.
—Gary Lemco

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