July 14, 2008

Prodigy Wong Gives Masterful Performance

By Channing Gray

No performer at the Newport Music Festival has been more anticipated than Wai Yin Wong, the 15-year-old Chinese piano prodigy who last year took the gold at the Horowitz Competition in Ukraine.

Reports of her considerable talent were circulating at Friday's opening-night concert, and festival director Mark Malkovich, a judge at the Horowitz, called her "astonishing," and predicted she would have a big career.

Well, Saturday night at The Breakers, Wong, making her North American debut, did not disappoint. She proved she not only had the chops but soul, too.

This is a kid who has it all -- fleet fingers, as well as something to say.

Wong, cute as a button in a wine-colored velvet dress, sauntered out on stage and sat down to some lovely Mozart, the lilting Sonata No. 17 in B-Flat, which she played with lovingly shaped phrases and a melting tone.

But it wasn't long before she pulled out the big guns, with selections by Liszt and Rachmaninoff, taxing pieces that require a flashy technique and lots of muscle. No problem, though. Wong tossed off Liszt's B Minor Ballade without breaking a sweat, roaring through those broken left-hand octaves and bringing a dreamy glow to the more reflective passages.

But it was in the two Rachmaninoff Etudes Tableaux that she really shone. There was emotional depth in the playing that was hard to imagine in a child so young. The dark, brooding E-Flat Minor Etude, one of Rachmaninoff's most impassioned creations, was stunning, just flat out gut-wrenching.

Then came a bubbling account of the C Minor Etude from Op. 39. By that time, half way through her program, the audience was on its feet.

More treats came after intermission, with selections by Faure. Chopin and Joaquin Turina, his Three Fantastic Dances.

There was a minor slip in the Third Ballade of Chopin, but not so glaring as to spoil this elegant rendition. One of the things that stood out in the Chopin was the voicing, the way Wong would highlight important melodies and leave the rest of the notes in the background, so her playing never sounded cluttered.

She also knows how to tell a musical story, to pull the audience into her playing.

The Turina, with its exotic harmonies and rhythms, gave Wong a chance to show off her knack for pulling different colors from the piano. And in the D-Flat Faure Nocturne we got to hear Wong the poet, the pianist with the silken touch.

All in all, she was the complete package.


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Originally published by Channing Gray, Journal Arts Writer.

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