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On the heels of her impressive Deutsche Grammophon debut recital album, pianist Yuja Wang's return recording for the label - Transformation - categorically demonstrates that she is a young master of the Steinway.Her new album excites with a demanding recital that includes some of the most electrifying pieces of piano literature - Stravinsky's Petrushka, Brahms's Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Scarlatti's Sonatas in E and B minor, and Ravel's La Valse. Yuja Wang's ability to take her music by storm is tempered by a sophisticated musicality that never distorts the line. Transformation highlights Yuja Wang's penchant for piecing together high concept programs the public adores.
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This, her second solo album, begins with a famous knuckle-cruncher, the Three Movement form Petrushka (1921), where we can compare her directly to Evgeny Kisisn and Maurizio Pollini. She bows to neither for technique, and her quick tempos are fearless. Pollini sounds ore aristocratic, Kisisn more grand, but Wang's light, sparkling rendition is more breathtaking because she really does make the technical hurdles seem effortless. This kind of control is jaw-dropping, for once giving meaning to that cliche. DG's sound is first-rate, and so is the piano she has chosen. By comparison, Pollini's piano sounds tinny and hard.
I wish the rest of the program didn't seem like an audition for a piano competition, consisting of two delicate Scarlatti sonatas, the humongous Paganini Variations of Brahms, and as a taste treat at the end, Ravel's La valse. It wasn't necessary to display so methodically that Wang can cover all bases. that said, the Scarlatti is done with charm and an easy touch' not for her the brittle brilliance of Horowitz. Let me confess that my interest in Brahms's big-deal piano works is only passing. I've only paid attention to Kissin's version of the Paganini Variations. Wang is no less bravura, but she's agreeably light and focused where Kissin is serious and grandstanding.
In fact, it's her fleeting touch that unites all the diverse pieces on this CD. by the time she arrives at La valse, the listener has caught on, and there's delight in appreciating such a mercurial artist. Wang is Argerich without fierceness. so far as I know, Argerich has only given us a two-piano arrangement of Ravel's insidious, off-kilter, and ultimately harrowing imitation of Vienna. Wang's account isn't satirical or even very French, but it's so graceful and lyrical that no one could resist. The same is true for the whole CD -- her future looks very bright.
Yeah right, I thought- I have certainly heard that before. But it was absolutely true! Words are lacking to explain this, but despite all the great pianists I have heard, this was a special and unique experience. Her playing translates well in this recording; technical brilliance? No doubt. Expressiveness and musical sensitivity beyond her years? Well yes, very much so!
She has a unique ability to make musical sense out of complex pieces that would simply be noise in lesser hands.
A fabulous young artist!
The open works - a triptych of pieces from Stravinsky's ballet Pétrouchka alone are worth buying this recording. Wang's virtuosity is stunning - the clarity of her technique is probably unmatched on other recordings of the piano version of this music. And her interpretation doesn't stop there. Her ability to transform Stravinsky's rhythms into pianistic jewels is a feat worthy of adulation. There is as much atmosphere in these three moments as in the ballet with full orchestra! Wang follows these with two Scarlatti Sonatas (in E and in f minor) and her way with these challenging pieces is once again as though they came from her own creative live of thinking - crisp, elegant, probing.
For this listener the Brahms 'Variations on a Theme by Paganini' is a complete success, not only because of her ability to present this difficult work with utter ease, but her choice to place the Brahms in between the two Scarlatti Sonatas is a stroke of programming genius. That she adds the piano version of Ravel's 'La Valse' is a decadent pleasure: after all the clarity and purity and panache of the preceding works, basking in the sensual luxuries of this audience pleaser is better than any encore she could have selected for a recital. There are portions of this piece that Wang delivers to us in a way that makes them seem as though they have been buried since conception!
Yuja Wang appears to be the pianist we have been waiting for - an artist able to capture her audience with excellent professionalism on every level and leave them with a sense of exaltation. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, February 11
with artistic sensitivity of the highest order. The Scarlatti sonata which I have heard many many times was just a revelation while the Stravinsky and Brahms just dazzled me for someone so young. I greatly look forward to when
she tries her skills at Beethoven, Schumann, and Mozart. It is on my List of Intentions to see her live some time
in the future. I can't imagine what she will be like 10 years from now when she begins to mature. I intend to still be around to find out. The sound of the piano on the recording is beautifully natural. This is a CD to have if you love great piano playing.
Her technical prowess was already confirmed by the debut album--an absolute prerequisite to tackling the taxing textures of the Petrushka Movements and the Paganini Variations. Her Stravinsky is technically accomplished, although the last degree of technical control cannot yet fully compare with that of Kissin and Pollini. Nonetheless, if Kissin's is a barnstormer and Pollini's a blueprint, what Wang adds is a sense of youthful positivity--as Santa Fe listener accurately notes, she is most light and sparkling.
Brahms's somewhat unwieldy Paganini Variations requires the performer to invest almost as much fingerwork but more often than not yields far less. Aware of the problem--'the impression of a series of academic etudes, and, instead, creating a big perspective'--Wang acknowledges structural inspiration from Michelangeli, following his idea (in principal supported by Clara Schumann) of rearranging Variations 13 & 14 from Book I to the very end, scrapping Variation 14 from Book II, and inserting Variations 3 & 4 from Book II right before. As for musical inspiration, she needs no role models: this is easily the most successful reading of the work I have heard (including most extant versions)--combining audacious virtuosity with exciting and coherent forward-momentum. Kissin is even more brilliant in the most ferocious numbers, but his rather literal approach does not give the work the kind of helping hand it so desperately needs.
The recorded sound caught at Friedrich-Ebert-Halle in January this year is very good (if a bit too close as nearly always with DG), and so are the Scarlatti Sonatas and the Ravel La Valse. I do not mean to be picky--Wang is still only 23 years old--but neither rise to the level of individuality she attains in the Brahms and parts of the Stravinsky. Hence, if she can keep up the current pace of prodigious transformation, her third album may turn out to be a landmark. Together with Yevgeny Sudbin, I believe Yuja Wang is the most talented pianist of the post-Kissin generation, born in the 1980s.
Apparently, this disc was very well received by the British critics--becoming both the Gramophone Editor's Choice and the BBC Music Magazine Disc of the Month for July. I hope this is due to a genuine appreciation of her rare pianistic achievement rather her ideal fit with a politically correct stereotype...
REFERENCES: Brahms--This One; Stravinsky--Kissin; Ravel--Lortie
PS1: All the works on this album can be found on YouTube in a live recording of her August 2009 Verbier Festival recital (divided into 12 parts--La Valse is from the 2008 recital, though). There is little difference in either conception or execution; the live format adds another degree in temperature, although the last Paganini Variation becomes somewhat approximate in parts thanks to the furious tempo.
PS2: I got my copy of this disc at Borders in Singapore. The interesting thing is that it was not filed under Classical Music but rather the neighbouring 'Classical Music Meets Easy Listening' category (cannot remember the exact wording)--together with two Lang Lang discs as well as (which is even more interesting, unless it had ended up there my mistake) Kissin's Russian recital of 2005. Suggested interpretation: these young superstars of the piano (well, Kissin is not that young anymore) appeals directly to contemporary mainstream Asian culture.