I have long admired Xiayin Wang's Youtube performances, and her first CD is absolutely wonderful in every way. That being said, this recent offering is a real stunner, easily the finest recital I've heard over the last year!
Wang chooses an ambitious opening piece, the Grand Fantasia on
Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, one of Wild's most successful arrangements. Few pianists offer this work in public, as the difficulties are formidable. Not only does Wang make it sound like child's play, her fervour and fidelity to the music are never in doubt. In Summertime, one of the Fantasy's highlights, Wang
achieves a shimmering, luminous tone that is absolutely suited to this soulful music. Elsewhere her virtuosity is hair raising yet integrated into the musical whole. Nothing sticks out in a "look how fast I can play this" fashion. As amatter of fact, Wang's playing is utterly seamless, even though I would prefer a
less cavernous sounding piano.
The listener hardly has a chance to catch his breath before Wang launches into the Seven Virtuoso Etudes, arrangements of popular Gershwin songs. Many of the difficulties in these pieces involve balance and sensitivity rather than displays of fast octaves, etc., and Wang is enormously successful with bringing out the purely musical qualities of each study. I particularly like her
rendition of The Man I Love, which is feathery and impressionistic. The faster pieces, such as Fascinatin' Rhythm are performed with such polish I'm sure even Wild himself would have been impressed. Certainly, Wang outdoes herself here, and her interpretation of this piece as a whole is one of the finest ever
Wild's three variations on Gershwin's Someone to Watch Over Me is a lot of fun, especially the tango which is interspersed with quasi-Bach passages that Wang plays with great panache. Her repeated notes in the first variation are astonishingly accurate and even more amazingly, extremely musical. The initial theme is played so lovingly, one simply basks in Wang's gorgeous tone and
Wang closes her generous recital with Wild's own Piano Sonata written in his mid 80's. Yet, this is no geriatric piece, being full of life and eminently listenable. The bluesy second movement is out and out gorgeous and the closing toccata (a la Ricky Martin) provides a rousing conclusion, interpreted to the nines by Wang.
Since Wild himself recorded all these works, the inevitable question is "How does Wang compare?" And the answer is...very well!! In some pieces, such as the Someone to Watch Over Me variations, I actually prefer her interpretation to Wild's cooler approach. In general, Wang is more warm blooded and passionate throughout this CD, and uses a wider palette of tone and dynamics. Wild himself uses slightly less rubato and is more straightforward in his renditions of his
own compositions. I would recommend both versions, they are often rather different but equally effective and musical.
Chandos has scored a winner with this CD, which further proves Wang is a force to be reckoned with. If this repertoire interests you, I think you will treasure this CD!
On a scale of 10, this CD earns an 11...enough said!