Notes and Editorial Reviews
"Transformation" characterizes each of Yuja Wang’s musical selections here, be it Stravinsky’s adaptation of Petrouchka’s radical orchestration for piano solo (or perhaps Petrouchka himself transforming from puppet to person), Ravel’s similar “de- orchestration” of La Valse, Brahms pushing Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 to punishing pianistic extremes, or the rethinking of Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas in terms of the concert grand’s capabilities. But the real transformation concerns how listeners may perceive this music through Wang’s freshly minted, technically astonishing interpretations. Wang’s Petrouchka builds upon and arguably challenges Pollini’s reference recording. She uncovers and gives revelatory shape to the first
movement’s cross-rhythmic phrase groupings and implied left-hand counter-melodies within thick chords. Sophisticated pedaling and multileveled articulation breathe fresh life into the finale’s churning, toccata-like sequences. Wang plays Brahms’ Paganini Variations in the order favored by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, and approaches that pianistic icon’s ability to imbue each variation with both unshakeable clarity and individual nuance. The murky opening of Ravel’s La Valse is less murky due to Wang’s mastery of non-pedaled legato, while her appropriately teasing rubato and galvanizing glissandos pack quite a wallop.
-- Jed Distler, Listen
“She seems to have everything: speed, flexibility, pianistic thunder and interpretive nuance.” -- The New York Times
"Ms Wang is stunning in the Three Movements from Petroushka. Slightly understated and underplayed, one is only conscious of the music, never once, did I find myself thinking that this is superb pianism, my mind was wholly what I was hearing. The two Scarlatti Sonatas make delightful respites from the heavier, and meatier, works which surround them. I was most taken with her delicate touch in the E major work. Ms Wang really understands that this music can be played gracefully, yet with a real sense of style, on the modern grand piano. The other Sonata is full of pathos, melancholy and lots of yearning. And on top of this there is a subtle emotionalism which perfectly fits the piece...This disk is a major achievement of great pianism and I would urge everyone to hear this astonishing young woman play like a demon and interpret like an angel...The sound is terrific, and the piano is captured in the most brilliant sound, crisp and clear. Fantastic."
-- Bob Briggs, MusicWeb International
Yuja Wang’s recital at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London in May 2009 included the Stravinsky, the Brahms, and one of the two Scarlatti sonatas heard here. It revealed a musician of fine intellect and massively solid technique. There were some finger slips in the Stravinsky (ironed out here, of course) but more importantly Wang revealed a quick-thinking intelligence. Lines surfaced that one might not usually hear.
The idea of this album centers on the Buddhist ideal of continual change, according to Michael Church’s booklet note (which liberally includes quotes from Wang herself). So it is that Stravinsky’s puppet appears here in the supremely challenging transcription the composer made (for Rubinstein). Competition is of the highest and includes the likes of Pollini and Sokolov. Wang holds her own, though. She is entirely the narrator in “Chez Petrushka.” The player-piano intimations of Wang’s opening to the “Danse russe” and her superb glissandi there (they are reminiscent of electronically generated ones) contrast with a held-breath, almost tentative world. Her finger strength is entirely up to Stravinsky’s demands, while her pedal work (coupled with a keen ear for texture) conjures up some remarkable sounds at the opening of “La Semaine grasse.” She is less objective than Pollini in his famous DG recording, less machine-like, and so honors the spirit of the dance to a greater extent.
Scarlatti’s delightful E-Major Sonata follows, possibly the most famous of all of Scarlatti’s little gems. It acts as an ear cleanser in many ways. Wang plays it magnificently, handling it like a precious jewel. The Brahms Variations follows the sequence and the omission of two variations from Book II used by Michelangeli. The third and fourth variations of Book II are postponed until near the end of the work, and the entire performance ends with Variations 13 and 14 of Book I. Again, Wang’s technique is entirely up to the task. Her fingerwork is staggering (try Book I, Variation 8, or the preternatural lightness of Book II, Variations 5 and 6), but so is her intelligence. She sees the variations as multicolored parts of a whole (Book I, Variations 10 and 11 are simply beautifully variegated). The end of Wang’s performance is little short of magnificent (superb trills, chattering textures, and above all a sense of a momentous journey reaching its climax). Live, I found Wang’s sound a trifle bass-light, but the recording elicits no such criticism from me.
The ruminations of the Scarlatti Sonata, K 466, act as breathing space in the context of the disc, but one should not miss the limpid delivery. The liberal use of the sustaining pedal makes this absolutely a performance of today.
in the composer’s own transcription for piano. Wang describes this piece as “transforming the whole thing into a dance of Death, as in Strauss’s
” and indeed, there is a marked macabre element to Wang’s performance. She seems to revel in the wispy textures and Ravel’s sudden explosions.
The disc is entirely up to the standards Wang set with her earlier disc,
Sonatas & Etudes
. The recording (Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg-Harburg) is exemplary in its clarity and presence. Recommended.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
La valse by Maurice Ravel
Yuja Wang (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1920; France
Featured Sound Samples
Movements from Pétrouchka (Stravinsky): No 3: The Shrovetide Fair
Harpsichord Sonata in E, K 380 (Scarlatti)
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