Is there anything that Angelo Xiang Yu cannot play extremely well? I’m sure that was a question that some audience members were left with after hearing the young violinist in a concert with pianist Andrew Hsu at the Alberta Rose Theatre on Wednesday evening (July 27th). Yu amazed everyone not only with his technical prowess but also with emotive and artist abilities, creating a transcendent effect in his playing of works by Mozart, Debussy, Messiaen, and Franck, plus a new piece by Hsu.
Portland audiences are still getting familiar with Yu, whose appearance marked his second year with Chamber Music Northwest. He was born in Mongolia and lived in Shanghai before coming to the United States where he is currently studying at the New England Conservatory. After winning the Wieniawski International Violin Competition in 2006 and the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in 2010, he has embarked on an international career. Hopefully, he will be able to fit another appearance in Portland in the near future.
Of the pieces that Yu played, it seemed a virtual toss up in regards to which one sounded best. He performed Debussy’s Violin Sonata in G Minor, Messiaen’s “Theme and Variations”, and Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major with breathtaking virtuosity and verve and in an inviting way that simply brought listeners in his musical world. Impeccable articulation, superb dynamics, pure lyricism – it was flat out phenomenal. Consequently, Yu drew applause from the audience at the end of every movement in the Debussy. The Messiaen sounded refreshingly spontaneous. The Franck was passionate and stirring. Plus Yu played most of the time (in all three works) with his eyes closed.
But it wasn’t all just Yu. Hsu’s outstanding accompaniment enhanced each piece. It was quite remarkable considering that they had met for the first time just two days to start rehearsals. Their collaboration on Hsu’s “sea meadows,” which he wrote just a couple of years ago, was another highlight of the evening. As Hsu explained to the audience, sea meadows occur in the artic when water freezes faster than the air above it. The freezing causes thousands of little frost flowers to form and cover the sea ice. I have never seen a meadow of frost flowers, but with Yu etching wisps of sounds in the upper register and Hsu adding crystalline splashes, they created a series of abstract impressions that drifted by as if suspended in the air.
Because I got to the concert a little bit late, I heard only the second and third movements of Mozart’s Violin Sonata in B-flat Major (K. 378). Yu and Hsu excelled in delivering the cantabile style of the second and followed it with a bouncy and lively finale (‘Rondeau: Allegro”).
The first of the two encores was a showstopping performance of Vittorio Monti’s "Csárdás" and the second a stirringly beautiful “Adagio” from Bach’s Sonata in G minor. Both were rewarded with thunderous applause and followed by lots of chatter in the audience regarding the outstanding concert and the two young, impressive artists.