Lucid Culture


High Romantic Angst and Insight From Pianist Zixiang Wang

Pianist Zixiang Wang has a passion for the Romantics. And who brews up more of an emotional storm than the Russians? Interestingly, Wang’s new album First Piano Sonatas: Scriabin and Rachmaninoff – streaming at Spotify – is hardly all fullblown angst, although there is some of that here. Rather, this is a very thoughtfully considered recording, bravely made in Michigan in the fall of 2020 despite grim lockdowner restrictions. This record is not the place to go to gear up for battle with demons, personal or otherwise. But if you want to hear Scriabin riffs that Rachmaninoff would later seemingly appropriate, or watch the stories in this music slowly unfold, Wang offers all that and plenty more in high definition.

He hits the first movement of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 1 hard, and then backs away. A heroic, martial quality develops and recedes in waves, but Wang keeps a tight rein on the rubato until the end, where muting those staccato chords and then stretching out the rhythm really drives this troubled theme home.

He gives movement two a slightly hesitant, almost prayerful undercurrent anchored by a steely but supple lefthand. The aggressive, balletesque parts of the third movement are pure proto-Piazzolla; Wang’s choice of subsuming the righthand melody with lefthand murk suddenly makes perfect sense when he reaches the crushing false ending. Likewise, his restraint with the funereal lows in the dirge of a fourth movement – a requiem for the composer’s short-lived career as a virtuoso performer, derailed by a hand injury.Wang’s approach to Rachmaninoff’s first Piano Sonata is similar, opting for clarity and detail rather than the kind of opulence that, say, Karine Poghosyan would give this music. Amid the cascades in both the right and lefthand, those fleeting little Debussyesque curlicues, that aching reach for a tender moment and its subsequent, surprisingly irrepressible variations are strikingly vivid, even if the more animated interludes seem a little on the fast side.

The second movement gets a delightfully calm lilt. genteel glitter and a handful of devious references to Rachmaninoff’s very contemporaneous Symphony No. 2. The sheer liquidity of Wang’s lefthand early on in the third will take your breath away, particularly in contrast with the rather stern quality he follows with. And yet, the moments of black humor that pop up are plenty visible. If this is to be believed, the devil gleefully walks away, needle in hand, at the end.

Wang concludes the album with a rarely performed version of Rachmaninoff’s F Major Prelude, a dreamy student work which the composer turned into his duo for piano and cello, Op. 2 No. 1.

March 17, 2021 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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