Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concerto No. 2.
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Yuja Wang (pn); Claudio Abbado, cond; Mahler CO
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON B0015338-02 (56:19) Live: Ferrara 4/2010
DG has already issued two solo CDs by the young (b.1987) pianist Yuja Wang; the first received a mostly positive review by Peter J. Rabinowitz in
33:1, the second an enthusiastic recommendation by Colin Clarke in 34:1. This new CD is her
first concerto recording.
The two qualities that stand out in Wang’s playing here are, first, the stunning fingerwork, which is flawlessly accurate and clean throughout, and second, the maturity of the music-making. Rachmaninoff’s two best-loved works for piano and orchestra have often been used as vehicles for virtuosos, but in these performances there are no exaggerations, no distortions, no self-indulgent histrionics; rather, there is the give-and-take between soloist and orchestra, along with the large-scale shaping of the music, or “sense of narrative direction,” that Rabinowitz sometimes found lacking in Wang’s sonata recordings.
This is particularly true of the concerto. The main tempo of the first movement is fairly fleet and the balance between piano and orchestra in the opening theme ideal, with no unnatural spotlighting of the soloist (the recording does make the orchestra sound bigger than a chamber orchestra, but that’s probably an advantage); not until the second theme does the piano really sing. Wang and Abbado allow the tempo to surge forward at the climax of the movement—the passage leading up to the recapitulation—but this makes perfect dramatic sense. Analogously, the reprise in the second movement sounds like a returning home: There’s the sense both of being someplace familiar and of
there after having been on a journey. In the finale we’re not so aware of Rachmaninoff’s many varying tempo markings as we are of the overall progress to the triumphant conclusion; Wang phrases her first statement of the “big tune” simply, leaving the music with somewhere to go. Reminding me most of the celebrated Cliburn-Reiner version, but also influenced by the composer’s own no-nonsense approach, it’s altogether a very satisfying account that also happens to feature some awfully impressive pianism.
is given a somewhat more generic reading, but a commanding one nonetheless. Again Wang is technically flawless, and the large formal arches connecting the many brief variations are shaped naturally and effortlessly. Wang’s phrasing and voicing in the touchstone 18th variation are expressive but never arbitrary, and her articulations in the scherzo-like variations that follow uncanny. (I had never before noticed the direction
in the piano part.) The end is not as tongue-in-cheek as it might be, but this is a quibble.
This is altogether a most impressive and enjoyable disc. Yuja Wang is a supremely talented and uncommonly mature young pianist, and surely has a huge career ahead of her. First-class!
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
Works on This Recording
Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, Op. 43 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Yuja Wang (Piano)
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1934; USA
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