The New York Times: Yuja Wang Sweeps Through a Rachmaninoff Marathon

“It was a momentous occasion as Wang played all five of Rachmaninoff’s works for piano and orchestra at Carnegie Hall for one show only.

Yes, Yuja Wang did an encore.

After playing, with electric mastery, all four of Rachmaninoff’s dizzyingly difficult piano concertos and his “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini” on Saturday — the kind of feat for which the phrase “once in a lifetime” was invented — she would have been forgiven for accepting a sold-out Carnegie Hall’s standing ovation, letting those two and a half hours of music speak for themselves, and heading home for a bubble bath.

But this is a superstar artist as famous for what comes after her written programs as during them. At Carnegie in 2018, she responded to waves of applause with seven encores. Appearing with the New York Philharmonic a few weeks ago, she returned to the keyboard no fewer than three times.

So on Saturday, the audience hushed as Wang, after all she’d already done with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, sat back down at the piano and played the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice.” It had the same freshness and tender lucidity that, in her hands, had lain beneath even Rachmaninoff’s densest, most ferocious fireworks.

She didn’t seem to have broken a sweat — neither on her face nor in her music-making, which had been calmly dazzling all the way through the final flourish of the Third Concerto at the program’s end.

To these scores’ vast demands she brought both clarity and poetry. She played with heft but not bombast, sentiment but not schmaltz. Her touch can certainly be firm, but not a single note was harsh or overly heavy; her prevailing style is sprightly, which is why the concert didn’t feel like eating five slices of chocolate cake in a row. In the 18th variation of the “Rhapsody,” the work’s aching climax, she began demurely and dreamily before adding muscle. But when the orchestra joined in, a point at which many pianists begin to pound, she refused to hammer.


Wang is nimble at that alternation, with power and accuracy in fast fingerwork and fortissimo chords — and, just as important, patience and elegance in cooler moments. Her pillowy chords at the close of the Second Concerto’s middle movement floated quietly into place, and she was shadowy but luminous before that piece’s ending romp.


Virtuosity on this level, in material this ravishing, is elevating to witness — which is why, even after so many hours, I was left at the end feeling an exhilarated lightness. Like many others I saw, I drifted up the aisle and onto the street unable to stop smiling.”

The New York Times