Oberon’s Grove : YCA Presents Hanzhi Wang~ Accordion Recital

Oberon's Grove
YCA Presents Hanzhi Wang~ Accordion Recital
Above: Hanzhi Wang, photo by Matt Dine
~ Author: Oberon
Monday October 22nd, 2018 - Some of my friends eyed me with skepticism when I told then I was going to an accordion recital. But at Zankel Hall this evening, Young Concert Artists opened their 2018-2019 season with Hanzhi Wang giving a remarkable performance. Ms. Wang is the first-ever accordion player in the organization's history to win the YCA auditions.
In a way, the accordion is like the organ: a wind-driven keyboard instrument. There's nothing for classical music buffs to fear in an evening of accordion music. When played as Ms. Wang played tonight, listening to the sound gives a lot of pleasure. 
Ms. Wang took her place center-stage tonight, glowingly gowned in pleated, iridescent turquoise. At first her accordion seemed way too large for her, but she immediately showed total command of her Rolls Royce of a squeeze-box.
J.S. Bach's Partita in C minor was the opening work, in which Ms. Wang displayed staggering virtuosity and a gift for drawing colours and magical dynamics from her accordion. Wending her way thru the suite of dances, Ms. Wang displayed an inspiring mixture of passion and finesse. Agile coloratura and ear-teasing trills were counter-balanced by passages of resonant wistfulness. Putting a regal polish on every phrase, her sparkling technique held the audience in a state of breathlessness. 
A more perfect contrast could not have been imagined as Ms. Wang commenced on Sofia Gubaidulina's De Profundis. Dating from 1978, the Psalm passage "Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord!" was the composer's source of inspiration. Ms. Gubaidulina crafted a work that presents a veritable panorama of the accordion's possibilities when in the hands of a great artist.
From deep, awakening rumblings which at first keep faltering, the dark music slowly wells up. High trills are set over sustained lower chords. From swooshing, trembling, sighing sounds a rhythmic build-up emerges. The music growls, then scurries onward. Drooping notes carry us down to deep chant before rising to a grand climax, which gives way to exhausted wheezing. Ms. Wang encompassed all of this in a performance that was as thrilling to watch as to hear. The Gubaidulina was all the buzz among the crowd during intermission.
Mozart's Andante, K. 616, was written on commission less than a year before the composer's death. His patron in this case, one Count Deym, had asked for a "funeral piece" to be played on a small mechanical organ. The composer hated frittering away his talent on such a trivial pursuit, but he needed the money. The piece has a 'theme and variations' feeling whilst repeatedly interrupting itself with mini-cadenzas. Scale passages and airy embellishments abound. Ms. Wang played this music with gracious charm.
Following the interval, the players of the Omer Quartet (above) joined Ms. Wang for a set of Piazzolla tangos. A first-rate ensemble of young artists, the Omer will be featured at the upcoming Young Concert Artists presentation at Merkin Hall on December 11th, 2018. Members of the quartet are violinists Mason Yu and Erica Tursi, violist Jinsun Hong, and cellist Alex Cox.
In three selections from Piazzolla's Five Tango Sensations, the quintet of musicians reminded us of the allure of the genre with sensuous, spine-tingling rhythms and provocative turns of phrase. Ms. Wang's playing gave an irresistible impulse to the tunes, whist the string players created a layering of timbres in which each voice was clear. In solo passages, the Omers shone delightfully. The audience greeted these persuasive Piazzolla interpretations with warm enthusiasm.
Three works by Martin Lohse - Encircled (dedicated to Ms. Wang and having its NY premiere), Menuetto, and Passing III - are distinctive miniatures. Ms. Wang read the poem the composer had written to her before playing
 Encircled. The music is lively, dancelike, impulsive: in its repetitive motifs, with intriguing modulations and broad-spectrum dynamic component, it made me think somewhat of a more lyrical Philip Glass. 
The second Lohse, Menuetto, is in a similar style at first, then devolves into a hymn-like state. Rolling gently on, it becomes delicate; the music veers from liturgical to ethereal. The composer keeps bending phrases into different shapes, as when an obbligato sounds over a simple melody. The hymn reappears, leading on to a soft, low ending.
Passing III, the last of the Lohse triptych, is an animated affair with fluttering, decorative swirls of notes, blithely tossed off by the virtuosic Ms. Wang. A chilly, vibrating passage carries on to a rich finish. Mr. Lohse joined the accordionist onstage for a bow and an embrace.
Moritz Moszkowski's Etincelles ('Sparks') brought the program to its end. Originally a piano solo, this relatively brief piece abounds in charm. It pulsates with rippling scales; it goes deep, and flies high. Shimmers of notes and pianissimo scalework delight us, as does a witty final gesture.
Called back by insistent applause, Ms. Wang offered two encores: Chiquilin de Bachin by Astor Piazzolla, and her own work entitled My Story.
~ Oberon
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