Yuja Wang

Every year large numbers of solo piano recital CDs are released by record labels. Of these, only a very few stand out as being of particular interest, by dint of the repertoire, the performances, or occasionally the programming. Yuja Wang’s début CD, Sonatas & Etudes [DG 4778140] managed to tick all three of these boxes, as well as boasting an engaging cover photo of the young pianist looking both athletic and thoughtful. Beginning and ending with familiar repertoire, the Chopin second Piano Sonata and the Liszt Sonata, ambitious enough in themselves, Yuja (Half of China is called Wang. Often I think I’d prefer just to be called Yuja, she remarks in the liner notes) separates these two warhorses by the much less familiar, but equally turbulent Second Sonata of Scriabin. But, and here her originality asserts itself, not content with this trilogy, she then separates these major works with two of the Ligeti Etudes. For a début disc this is beyond arrogant, and suggests a very individual musical vision. With her second CD, Transformation, Yuja has moved the discourse to an entirely new level. She retains the concertina format, beginning and ending with major 20th century virtuoso (and how!) masterworks, Stravinsky’s Three Scenes from Petroushka, and Ravel’s solo piano transcription of la Valse, separated by the Brahms Paganini Variations, with two little Scarlatti Sonatas as buffers. In the year or so separating the CDs, however, her playing, or possibly her understanding of recording in the studio, seems to have developed markedly, and the performances are truly sensational. For comparison I revisited another début recital including similar repertoire, that of Simon Trpceski [EMI Debut 5752022]. At the time I had thought that his Petroushka Scenes were astonishing. Yuja’s by comparison are more forthright, faster, and much better characterised. She re-orders the Brahms Variations slightly to achieve a more psychologically successful running order, which may not be to purists’ tastes, but certainly works for me. The choice of the cool, condensed, Scarlatti sonatas is a masterstroke, tempering the overheatedness of the other three works. Transformation is the most outstanding solo piano recital CD I have heard in a long time, and anyone who is interested in the future of piano playing should seize a copy. In fact, her first CD is only slightly less magisterial and I’d strongly suggest getting both. Yuja’s vision is such that they are a really successful matching pair.

Review reprinted with permission of Thomas’ Music.