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Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, February 2011

Taken from the sixteenth Verbier Festival, this is a remarkable homage to the evergreen genius of Mendelssohn—with the bonus of a stunning version of the Stravinsky Petrushka pieces.

The disc begins with the least known piece, the Op. 110 Piano Sextet. Wang looks rather uncomfortable as she comes on stage, and even initiates the bow before one of the viola players is fully in place. All musicians seem to settle immediately down to the matter at hand, though. The scoring of the sextet is for piano, violin, two violas, cello and double-bass. Anthony Short’s booklet notes point, correctly, to the influence of Weber here, particularly perhaps in the sparkling piano writing. Certainly Wang is beautifully attuned to Mendelssohn’s idiom, and the counterpoint that informs the score is beautifully realised by all players. Mendelssohn’s scoring is rich, even tending towards the Brahmsian on occasion. The wonderfully interior Adagio is as delicate as silk, while the relatively extended finale (8:57) has a sort of addictive energy which is most involving. Certainly the audience thought so—whoops of joy after the final chord.

The camera angles are sometimes deliberately close, and a favourite one seems to be to show Wang through the gap between string players—they are arranged in front of her onstage. Certainly one can see plenty of eye contact between the string players—less so between Wang and her colleagues, but perhaps she wasn’t in shot when it happened. Also David Carpenter finds it difficult to keep a smile off his face, and he keeps raising his eyebrows to other players. Wang restricts her witticisms to her fingers; no flirting there. Her every phrase is a delight, and she sounds so off-the-cuff that it comes as a surprise to watch her read the music so closely.

There is no other Mendelssohn Op. 110 on DVD, it would appear, and this performance is a fine one.

Wang’s hair is decidedly wilder in style for the piano concerto—a seemingly meaningless comment from this reviewer, perhaps, except to say that it matches her playing. Her sound is perhaps, a little too shallow for the big choral moments, but the semiquaver fluency is remarkable, and her diamond articulation fuels further joy. Masur moulds the violas and cellos in the slow movement to mesmeric effect—their sound is marvellously rich. Wang is able to match their eloquence; the experience throughout is magical. The finale is magnificently sprightly. Perhaps Wang is a touch too dry in the opening flourishes, and a touch more wit would be welcome on occasion from her. Still, this is a noteworthy performance that loses little to the classic (non-visual) accounts of Perahia, Thibaudet and Ogdon. Masur’s contribution is all one would expect from this ex-conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, with all its links to Mendelssohn.

Masur’s reading of the “Scottish” symphony is no less impressive. He conveys the majesty of the work in tempi which unfailingly are absolutely right. A special word is in order for the principal clarinettist, whose solos are uniformly musical, creamily toned and full of character. The Scherzo reveals virtuoso playing from just about the whole band, while the Adagio’s phrases seem literally to breathe—one can follow the music’s inhalations and exhalations. The finale oozes energy.

The bonus is the Stravinsky Petrushka pieces. Having heard Wang play this live in London, it is interesting to hear her live in Verbier in what is rapidly becoming her signature work. The dark lighting, complemented by her fire-red dress, sets the atmosphere perfectly for the fireworks. Yet, for all the keyboard virtuosity, Wang never forgets that there is the spirit of the dance at the heart of Petrushka. Her linear acuity seems even more heightened than Pollini (DG) in the first piece (the “Russian Dance”), and without his emotional distancing. The quietly buzzing atmosphere of the Shrovetide Fair is superbly done, as is the later pianistic frenzy, an orgy of counterpoint that, even as one hears it, seems improbable. The final chords approaching the glissando here take on a Mussorgskian element, something that doesn’t even strike the listener with the likes of Pollini or Kissin. The cheers and standing ovation for Wang are the natural consequence of her playing. Wang’s Petrushka pieces are available in an audio performance on her “Transformations” album (DG 4778795)—this forms a valuable appendix.



Jeremy Nicholas
Gramophone, January 2011

Yuja Wang scintillates in live performance

Recorded live at the 16th Verbier Festival in 2009, this is a real treat for ears and eyes. The Verbier house style is to produce an entirely black surround to the stage, so that the musicians perform in a focused pool of light. Even the front row of the audience is barely visible. Top-lighting lends a burnished glow to the patina of the string instruments and a crisp detail to each shot. Director François-René Martin is not as rigidly formulaic as the BBC’s house style of cutting at each orchestral cue (“See? This is where the clarinets come in, just in case you haven’t heard them”) but steers us through each score, none the less, with ease and lucidity.

Yuja Wang’s studio recordings for DG have established her as a major talent but in concert she is electrifying, an artist who clearly relishes performing in public and cannot wait to share with the audience her palpable joy in music-making. She sets out her credentials as a natural Mendelssohn-player in a scintillating, finely honed performance of the 15-year-old composer’s Piano Sextet. For all its reliance on Weber and Hummel, it is a radiant, captivating work we should hear more often. The mid-performance smiles on the faces of the string players say it all.

Yuja Wang despatches the G minor Concerto in equally thrilling style, her articulation, speed and flawless accuracy matched only by her lingering caressing of the slow movement. She also takes risks (which all come off), but how such a slip of a girl can play with such power and sonority I still have to work out. Early in the first movement, co-ordination goes slightly awry on four down-beats (from 29”57”). Is it Masur we hear shout something—perhaps “Watch me!”? More justifiably it should have been Miss Wang shouting “Keep up!”

The young players of the Verbier orchestra respond to Masur’s grim platform demeanour with a commendable rather than inspiring performance of Mendelssohn’s Scottish, the neatly turned Scherzo and the last movement’s grand coda notwithstanding. The bonus is an edge-of-the-seat performance of the Three Movements from Petrushka, the final item in Yuja Wang’s solo recital given the day after the concerto. She is the undoubted star of this DVD.






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3:12:08 AM, 27 December 2014
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