Review: Cliburn medalist Yang shines on Gershwin piece

03/07/2014 11:05 PM

03/07/2014 11:06 PM

The medal and dress may have been silver, but the playing was golden.

South Korean pianist Joyce Yang, who endeared herself to Fort Worth audiences winning a silver medal at the 12th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2005, was the featured soloist in George Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at Bass Hall on Friday.

In that competition, Yang displayed a great deal of lyricism and delicacy. But Friday night, as she ripped through the jazzy structures of one of Gershwin’s most sophisticated works, she displayed a much more muscular and, frequently, sassy side of her expansive skill set.

Resplendent in a glittering silver gown, Yang had a little difficulty being heard above the orchestra in the concerto’s opening movement. But that happened only once. Afterward, Yang began to take charge of the piece, refusing to allow the orchestra to exert its dominance.

The second movement featured some lovely contributions by guest trumpeter David Cohen, who was auditioning for an open spot in the brass section. If the audience had had a vote last night, the symphony’s search committee would have disbanded. Yang, meanwhile, retained the street-smart attitude of the 1925 composition even in this slower movement.

The final movement was an exhilarating celebration of all that had come before. Yang dashed through the closing section with symphony music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra always close at her heels, before wrapping things up with a wonderfully theatrical finish.

Yang was coaxed back to the stage, and her choice of the classic Gershwin torch song, The Man I Love, was a perfect encore.

The performance opened with Rossini’s Overture to the Thieving Magpie. Conducting without a score, Harth-Bedoya made this curtain-raiser serve its purpose well. The piece was as exuberant as it should be, but it was also more carefully articulated and accented than is usual for a work that can be dashed off without much concern for detail and still get the job done.

The concert closed with the Symphony No. 2 by 20th century Danish composer Carl Nielsen. The four-movement work, which carries the nickname “The Four Temperaments,” is meant to reflect the four “humors” that the ancients felt described the ways of mankind: the choleric, the phlegmatic, the melancholic and the sanguine. The opening section was bold and brash; the middle two were mostly quiet and subdued; and the final section was bouncy and optimistic, with some march-like elements. The 1902 composition was tonal and inoffensive throughout. The piece was problematic, however, in that each section was so unrelated to the others. That argument might be made of symphonies composed in a more traditional matter, but it was extreme in this case. While it was all pleasant enough, it lacked any compelling themes to draw the listener in and hold the piece together as a whole.

So it was easy to understand why Nielsen is somewhat admired but not often heard. Just as it was easy to understand how Yang has spun her silver into gold since making such a stellar impression on us at that Cliburn long ago and far away.

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