CD Review: Yuja Wang – Ravel

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Turning twenty-nine next month, pianist Yuja Wang has released her sixth recording with Deutsche Grammophon, Yuja Wang: Ravel. On it she performs Maurice Ravel’s two piano concertos  – the G major and the Concerto for the Left Hand in D major. The palate cleanser between these two is Gabriel Fauré’s Ballade in F# minor for solo piano opus 19. It is Wang’s first exploration of French repertoire on disc. Performing with her is Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra conducted by its newly appointed Chief Conductor and Music Director, Lionel Bringuier.

Though written contemporaneously, the two concertos are strikingly different and their pairing on this recording is a convincing statement of Yuja Wang’s versatility and brilliance. The first movement of the G major concerto (Allegramente) is a parade of saucy jazz rhythms, Spanish aesthetics, the shimmering colours of Impressionism and a toccata-like section . Wang plays the second movement (Adagio assai) with tenderness and a clarity that is sustained through the rippling phrases, culminating in an intimate dialogue with the cor anglais. Wang maintains a fearsome Presto in the third movement, brash and intense.

The Concerto for the Left Hand is an altogether darker and more raucous piece, though still heavily influenced by jazz. Ravel composed it at the behest of pianist  Paul Wittgenstein, older brother of the philosopher Ludwig. The concerto is remarkable because Wittgenstein lost his right arm doing battle in World War I and Ravel composed the concerto without allowing Wittgenstein’ disability to compromise the concerto’s technical and expressive demands.  Yuja Wang gives a brilliant account of the concerto, opening with the growling cadenza and negotiating its many rhythmic and technical complexities with aplomb.

Fauré presented his Ballade in F# minor opus 19  to Liszt in when they met in Weimar in 1877. Astonishingly, Liszt said he found it too difficult to play. Not so Yuja Wang who delivers a sensitive and lyrical performance with a shimmering lightness of touch that is in stark contrast to the more percussive sound of the left hand concerto which follows.

Conducting the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra is Lionel Bringuier, (b Nice, 1986), just a year older than a the pianist and a pianist and cellist himself. Bringuier was appointed in 2014 to succeeded the legendary David Zinman as the Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Zurich Tonhalle. The collaboration between Wang, Bringuier  and the Tonhalle Orchestra promises to be a prodigious one. Wang has already performed as Artist in Residence with the ensemble and there are plans afoot to work together on music by Brahms and Mozart.

Highly Recommended.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney© 

Insights from both the pianist and the conductor during the recording of the CD.



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