CD Review: Yuja Wang comes up with a new album of jaw-dropping wonders in time for Toronto recital
Witness the power, dexterity and finesse of Chinese pianist Yuja Wang playing the "Danse Russe" from Stravinsky's adaptation of his Petrouchka ballet score for solo piano:
The clip is from a recital Wang gave last summer at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland.
In January of this year, she sat down in a German studio to record the Stravinsky and other virtuosic showpieces for a new Deutsche Grammophon album.
The official release date for this album is May 14, but Wang is giving a solo recital at Koerner Hall on Saturday, so I expect the disc should be on sale early in Toronto (click on the disc image for more info).
Transformation (Deutsche Grammophon)
**** (out of 4
It's hard to find enough fresh superlatives to describe this second big-label album by 23-year-old Chinese-born, New York City-based pianist Yuja Wang. She has chosen fiercely difficult piano compositions, conquered their many and varied technical challenges, and then shaped them into extraordinary music.
This isn't simply the product of someone who has spent 10 hours a day practising, nor is this a series of bland or idiosyncratic interpretations. This has the sound and feel of a mature, assured artist who respects the composer, knows what she wants to say and how she is going to say it.
The more I listen to this disc, the more impressed I am. If careers were built on artistic quality alone, Wang would earn herself a seat in the pianistic Pantheon.
Assuming that people still listen to a CD from beginning to end in one sitting, the programming is brilliant: three titanic musical courses -- three movements from Stravinsky's Petrouchka, Brahms' Variations on a Theme of Paganini and Ravel's La Valse -- are given room to breathe by two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, acting as sorbet-like palette cleansers.
The Stravinsky and Ravel can easily sound too harsh and percussive as a pianist fights with the great handfuls of notes. Wang manages to capture the power of the music, but it's never just noise. What is the most impressive is the seamlessness of her dexterity.
Brahms' two books of Paganini Variations are, I think, an even greater challenge, because the pianist has to capture the composer's inner marshmallow along with the cascades of little black dots. Once again, Wang exceeded my highest expectations in a fleet, lyrical reading that's as full of heart as of fire. The pianist has re-ordered the variations slightly in an effort to vary texture and mood a bit more.
The two Scarlatti pieces (chosen from the more than 500 short Sonatas he left behind) are not from the glittery ones, but from the slower, more contemplative lot. Wang plays them simply, yet with soul.
Someone recorded Wang at a recital when she was 12 (two years before her family moved from Beijing to Calgary, so she could learn to speak English), playing Mozart's popular C-Major Piano Sonata (K.545). This girl's performance goes well beyond what an examiner would label "well prepared":