Jian Wang’s formative cello training was something of a triumph considering the restrictive conditions of his education in China, where artistic activities were closely controlled. The son of a cellist, Wang was taught by his father before entering the Shanghai Conservatory where he received special treatment, the director himself instructing him on a daily basis. Isaac Stern’s high-profile visit to China in 1979 and a tour of the USA by students of the Shanghai Conservatory in 1982 caused Wang increasing frustration over the highly didactic pedagogic method he experienced; but sponsorship from Chinese émigré Sau-Wing Lam (who had built a successful business in the USA) enabled Wang to study at Yale with his most esteemed role-model, Aldo Parisot.
From the evidence of his recordings it seems that Wang prospered under Parisot and his playing reflects a sensitive artistic personality. Perhaps unsurprisingly he is stylistically conventional, but distinguished by a notable breadth of tone and an immaculate, highly polished technique, no doubt encouraged by his association with Parisot. From his 1990 debut disc Chopin’s Introduction et Polonaise is lithe and clean with fluidity of tone, but employs a rather idiosyncratic slow vibrato on sustained notes in more reflective passages (a trait heard elsewhere in this small selection). The Barber Sonata from the same album is suitably dark-hued, with some very assertive playing in the outer movements especially and a fantastic precision to the attack in the first, whilst the fast-moving section of the middle movement is delivered with great excitement. Equally capable of intense introspection, Wang gives a compelling performance of the fifth movement of Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps (2000), although here again the slow vibrato could admit more flexibility.
By contrast, Wang’s performances of earlier material – here in the famous Boccherini B flat Concerto and the rather less well-known G minor Concerto by Monn (both 2003) – are particularly stylish, although the incorporation of performing practice research is perhaps outworked more in the orchestral contribution of the Camerata Salzburg than in Wang’s own playing. Nonetheless, there is a more sparing use of the vibrato creating cleaner sonorities, and the outer movements of both works are admirably lively and dance-like. Considered together, these selected performances epitomise the strengths of an artist who is successful on the world’s stage in spite of his initial experiences. Whilst not the most individual voice in present-day cello playing, Wang is nonetheless of the highest calibre according to current performance tastes and also holds the distinction of being one of very few internationally-known Chinese cellists of his generation.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)