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Joyce Yang brings ‘wild dreams’ to her new release from Avie Records

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Almost exactly a month ago, Avie Records released a new recital album, entitled Wild Dreams, conceived and performed by the pianist Joyce Yang. Yang’s intention was that her selections would be integrated within an overarching theme. In her notes for the accompanying booklet, she calls that theme a “soundtrack to a dream sequence.”

Dreams have occupied the imaginations of many composers. Many of them acknowledge the dream state explicitly, the best known example probably being the “Träumerei” (dreaming) movement from Robert Schumann’s Opus 15 Kinderszenen (scenes from childhood). While that brief movement is not included on this recording, there is a sensitively expressive account of the Opus 12 Fantasiestücke (fantasy pieces) cycle and its wild alternation of moods across settings that could be either daydreams or “real” dreams.

In two of the selections, it would appear that Yang is more interested in the nocturnal setting as a source of wildness. This is particularly evident in Paul Hindemith’s Opus 15 collection, In einer Nacht (in one night), from which she performed only five of the movements. Her selection of Béla Bartók’s Out of Doors suite also provides an excellent example of that composer’s capacity for a “nocturnal” rhetoric (which shows up in many of his compositions).

The entire program, however, is framed by Sergei Rachmaninoff, beginning with Earl Wild’s transcription of the song he composed entitled “Dreams.” This is coupled with another transcription of the “Vocalise.” Neither of these, however, is particularly wild, although Yang may have intended them to establish a “calm before the storm.” The concluding selection, on the other hand, Rachmaninoff’s Opus 36 sonata in B-flat minor, definitely satisfies the “wild” criterion. While it may be formally structured, Yang throws herself into a vigorous interpretation, which may or may not be consistent with the composer’s own pursuit of virtuosity through abstraction.

Whether or not Yang has done justice to her program, this is definitely a recording of discovery. Rachmaninoff’s piano sonatas do not get very much attention, and Yang makes a good case that at least this particular sonata does not deserve such neglect. On the other hand I would say that the Hindemith suite, taken in its entirety, should not have been neglected either. Much as I like Wild’s approaches to transcription, I would have been willing to give up the Rachmaninoff songs in the interests of more Hindemith.

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