Harriet Smith, Financial Times
We started with Chopin’s 24 Preludes, which began at a whisper, each one very much occupying its own world, an effect intensified by her stillness at the keyboard. Often she went against received wisdom (and the score itself) but always with purpose, while her giant-killing technique ensured that filigree was as supple and light as could be, as witness the Fifth and 10th Preludes.
A slight pause marked the halfway point and then she was off again, the minor-key section of the 13th Prelude revealing myriad shades of pianissimo. Even in a number as familiar as the so-called “Raindrop”, Wang possessed it as if it was entirely new, though without ever sounding gimmicky or self-conscious. In the final Prelude she let rip, acknowledging the applause with the briefest of bows.
It was not surprising to find Brahms on the programme for she has long loved his music. The Handel Variations can sound very bitty as the theme itself is so short. But here they combined sweep and vivid characterisation to captivating effect. From a poised opening we travelled through a huge range of moods and colours, from playful exuberance to solemnity, from resoluteness to yearning, from the most velvety of textures to the crystalline, notably in the “musette” variation. The final Fugue rivetingly balanced strength and an extraordinary clarity of textures.
Short-changed we may have been on the programme itself but Wang made up for that with her encores, which found her in deliciously relaxed mood. Scriabin’s Fourth Sonata was dizzyingly reactive and airborne, while Prokofiev’s Toccata was suitably implacable yet also unusually finely detailed. And she showed her gentler side in lustrous accounts of the Liszt/Schubert Gretchen am Spinnrade and Zoltán Kocsis’s arrangement of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise.
Nor did Wang disappoint sartorially: Chopin was accompanied by a sultry gold and black number, long but sheer, and her characteristic vertiginous heels. For the second half, she sparkled in forest green, clinging and backless. She looked every bit as fabulous as she sounded.