There are worse losses from the pandemic, for sure, but for the avid concertgoer, the cancellation of live concerts has been difficult. This past spring, we had tickets to seven concerts that were never held, including four piano recitals sponsored by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (PCMS). So it was a delight to experience, albeit remotely, a live concert on Sunday afternoon, October 4, when PCMS presented a piano recital by Amy Yang. It wasn’t entirely virtual; 25 audience members were in attendance in the auditorium of the American Philosophical Society that afternoon, but the rest of us enjoyed this superb recital via livestream.
This was Yang’s debut with this recital series, but she is no newcomer to the concert stage. Her bio lists numerous chamber music appearances, and she is also on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania and Haverford College. Here was her program:
Brahms: Drei Intermezzi, Op. 117
Dorman: After Brahms: Three Intermezzos for Piano
Delibes/Dohnányi: Waltz from Coppélia
Sibelius: Valse Triste, Op. 44
Dvořák: Humoresques, Op. 101, No. 7
Schumann: Humoresque, Op. 20
It was clear from the beginning that Yang gave careful thought to planning this program. She interspersed the first six pieces, that is, she followed each Brahms Intermezzo with an Intermezzo from the set entitled After Brahms by the contemporary Israeli-born composer, Avner Dorman. It was an interesting idea, but I’m not sure the relationship between the two sets was apparent from the first pairing. The first Intermezzo in Brahms’ set is autumnal and introspective, while Dorman’s first Intermezzo is a rather stormy and unsettling work. But the next two in Dorman’s set, while written in a more modernistic musical language, of course, are closer in texture and mood to the Brahms works. It’s hard to judge Yang’s performance of the Dorman pieces since this was my first hearing, but her rendition of the Brahms pieces was wonderfully nuanced and expressive.
Leaving introspection behind, Yang next performed two familiar waltzes. The waltz from Leo Delibes’ ballet Coppelia is familiar and sweet, but offers special appeal in this exuberant transcription by the early 20th Century composer and pianist Erno Dohnanyi. Sibelius’ Valse Triste is a little less extroverted and, despite its title, produces a happy feeling. Yang illuminated both works with her brilliant technique and flair.
I didn’t realize until I read the program notes that the piece I’ve known as Dvorak’s Humoresque is actually the seventh of a set of eight. But let’s put that factual tidbit aside for the moment. Everyone simply calls this Dvorak’s Humoresque, and it’s one of the most well-known tunes in the classical literature. Among “miniatures,” only Beethoven’s Fur Elise is better known. Those of you of a certain age may recall Victor Borge’s rendition of this piece, where he adds some additional off-kilter notes to the one “wrong” note that’s in the original. Yang performed this light-hearted piece with just the right amount of charm and without excessive schmaltz.
There’s nothing “funny” about Schumann’s Humoresque--certainly not for the performer who must surmount the formidable technical challenges of the work. Indeed, Schumann himself said that the work was “not very cheerful, perhaps my most melancholy work.” So why the title? Well, we can’t ask the composer, but we can still enjoy this very imaginative and (despite Schumann’s description) not so melancholy work. The work, nearly a half hour in length, consists of seven movements or sections. With these multiple, varied episodes, it’s similar in concept to the composer’s Carnaval or Kreisleriana, but is performed far less often than those works. Yang delivered an impressive and persuasive performance of this concert rarity.
Twenty-five people cannot produce thunderous applause, but to my ears, it sounded like a well-deserved enthusiastic ovation. Yang rewarded us with one encore: Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze.”