Yuja Wang’s philosophy of music is both simple and profoundly complex. “I want to relate all life to music,” she recently told veteran British critic Fiona Maddocks. The Beijing-born pianist’s latest album for Deutsche Grammophon captures the white heat of solo works by Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Scriabin, and Ligeti, a trio of Russians together with one of the late 20th-century’s greatest composers. The Berlin Recital was recorded live this summer at the Berlin Philharmonie’s Kammermusiksaal during Yuja’s extensive solo tour of North America and Europe. The Yellow Label also recorded her sublime series of Berlin encore pieces to form a separate EP, which spans everything from the riffs and roulades of Nikolai Kapustin’s jazz-tinged Toccatina to Earl Wild’s sonorous transcription of the Pas de Quatre from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.
In the first of the two Rachmaninov C minor Études-tableaux she is as tempestuous and temperamental as the music demands: some might even say more than it demands. But she never loses her head, and her colors are original without being wilful. In Scriabin's Tenth Sonata she moves smoothly between feathery, evocative touches and maximum eruptive volatility. In the Ligeti she offers a tour de force of quasi-orchestral detail. Anyone hitherto more put off than drawn in by Yuja Wang’s glamorous image may have to do some rethinking in the light of this recital. Fabulous piano sound, too.