Joyce Yang kicked off her Australian tour with Tuesday’s performance in Adelaide, with a program featuring several popular works from the standard piano repertoire, along with a brand new Australian work. She opened with a selection of lyric pieces by Grieg. Although very short, both the Arietta from Book I and Notturno from Book V gave Yang plenty of opportunity to demonstrate sensitive phrasing and nuances. Her performance of the Scherzo from Book V was full of humour, while she brought out a mischievous, almost sarcastic quality in Puck from Book X.

Debussy’s Estampes is an incredibly evocative work, and Yang explored a wonderful range of tone colours in this performance. Her use of rubato was restrained but effective, with a lyrical tone in the melodic lines and excellent balance. Rounding out the first half of the program was Chopin’s Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante. Again, Yang brought out much lyricism in the Andante spianato, while the polonaise was suitably flamboyant.

This program also featured the premiere of a new piano sonata by Australian composer Elizabeth Younan. Although she is only in her twenties, Younan has already developed an idiosyncratic musical voice and a skilful compositional technique. This work was tightly structured, with musical cells building and evolving in complex and interesting ways.

Her sonata is in a rather traditional three movement form, with two outer fast movements and a central slow movement. The first movement opened with a slow, expressive introduction, with hints of almost blues-like harmonies, before launching into the main body of the movement, which was both highly intricate and dramatic. The second movement was expansive, with cross rhythms and melodic contours reminiscent of some of the music of Carl Vine, who was one of the dedicatees of the piece. The final movement featured relentless rhythms and accents, conjuring up the sensation of a wild, frenzied dance. This is an extremely virtuosic and demanding work, but Yang handled the challenges with both control and flair.

Finishing the program was Robert Schumann’s Carnaval, a work consisting of 20 short movements depicting the personalities of various fictional characters, colleagues, and aspects of Schumann’s own personality. This work really showed off Yang’s versatility, with the pianist shifting effortlessly from one character to the next.


Joyce Yang tours nationally for Musica Viva until July 21

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Limelight, Australia's Classical Music and Arts Magazine