DG recently lost its two superstar Chinese pianists, with Yundi (as he wants to be known) skipping to EMI and Lang Lang to Sony. they have the power to demand any terms they want, while DG must turn to a new crop of virtuosos. They've placed a good bet on Yuja Wang. Although marketed as sexy in this all-red cover photo, she has the technique to match her male rivals, a solid musical background form Curtis Institute, a famous teacher in Gary Graffman, and most important, real musical instincts. The only drawback is that she has been launched internationally before her musical gifts have matured, but since when is that new?
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.