Two views of Yuja Wang: ... and on CD
Yuja Wang: Transformation [Deutsche Grammophon]
by Robert Battey
Deutsche Grammophon, having lost its two young keyboard lions (Lang Lang to Sony and Yundi Li to EMI), needed to have a hit with Yuja Wang, the comely, Curtis-trained piano phenom. Wang’s second release for the prestigious yellow label, “Transformation,” is loaded with pyrotechnics and a programming “theme” that is more theoretical than audible, but there is no gainsaying that this is playing of real distinction, at least in this knuckle-crunching repertoire. After two albums, it remains to be heard whether this amazing young artist has the musical depth and breadth to say anything special in repertoire where a pianist cannot hide behind virtuosity.
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Stravinsky’s “Trois Mouvements de ‘Pétrouchka,’” Brahms’s “Paganini Variations,” and Ravel’s “La Valse” are all fearsome challenges, requiring pinpoint control of every corner of the keyboard and finger independence that borders on the impossible. When so much of the artist’s attention has to be on accuracy, rhythm, and clarity, there’s little room left over for musical imagination and only the greatest can emerge with a real profile; here Wang shows herself to be among the elite. Her “Pétrouchka,” compared to Maurizio Pollini’s classic reading (also on DG) yields nothing in the way of sparkle, nuance or playfulness, and she is afforded a warmer sound as well. In the Brahms, she again holds her own against Yevgeny Kissin (RCA), even though the Russian artist often displays a richer tone. And she captures the nightmarish atmosphere of the Ravel superbly. One awaits the next phase of her development with great anticipation.
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