Yuja Wang: Ravel

With Fauré's Ballade in F sharp (original version)

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COMPOSERS: Faure,Ravel
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Yuja Wang: Ravel
WORKS: Ravel: Piano Concerto in G; Concerto for the Left Hand in D; Fauré: Ballade in F sharp (original version)
PERFORMER: Yuja Wang (piano); Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich/Lionel Bringuier
CATALOGUE NO: 479 4954

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This is the opening volume of Lionel Bringuier’s projected Ravel series. Having long admired his conducting, as well as Yuja Wang’s superlative technique and musicianship, I had keenly looked forward to hearing their collaboration on this album. Bringuier and Wang have happily worked together for some years, and indeed Wang has been artist in residence with the Tonhalle-Orchester at Bringuier’s invitation. Furthermore, Wang has previously made an astonishing recording of the piano transcription of La valse. Yet she seems not entirely at ease with the G major Concerto: contrary to the limpid character of its lyrical moments, her playing has a rather restless quality, even in the first movement’s affectionate references to Gershwin’s Broadway style, and its slow movement’s allusion to Mozart.

Wang plays the original piano solo version of Fauré’s Ballade rather than the usual concertante rewrite, which Fauré created after Liszt had declared the solo version unplayable. That original version is far more involving, and Wang avoids making it the usual mellow wallow: this is music with considerable backbone, all the more impressive for the clarity of her playing. Still, Wang could have been a little less inexorable in charging through the charming ‘woodland’ section with its bird-like trills.

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Wang’s superb technique and keyed-up style of playing might well have suited Ravel’s Left Hand Concerto. It seems, though, that Bringuier and Wang decided to avoid in its opening the usual sense of tragic grandeur: Wang, in more than one sense, makes light of her opening cadenza, and the following orchestral tutti is amiable rather than heroic. The recorded acoustic – much of it sounding as if heard some distance from the orchestra in an empty hall, so obscuring some of the finer detail of Bringuier’s interpretations – only adds to a general feeling of disappointment. Daniel Jaffé