I have read all the very mixed bag of reviews on this site and I can agree with all of them in many, many respects. However, to my ears the sheer verve and vivacity of these performances compensates for all the many problems of recording balance and high speeds. It’s not a disc for purists but the enjoyment factor is huge. I have only discovered Yusa Wang in the past few weeks and have fallen under her spell – what a pianist!
on 18 April 2015
I like Miss Wang's solo work but she comes unstuck here with the Rachmaninov. Apart from a murky orchestral sound, the real issue here is that she is so keen to show off her virtuosity that she rushes the piece and doesn't let it breathe. The recording comes in at nearly five minutes faster than my favourite recording Ashkenazy with Ormandy. Calm down dear!
on 6 January 2015
A disappointing live recording of both works.
There are moments of spirit and exuberance but these accounts of great piano concertos exhibit a poor understanding of the balance and structure. And the cover artwork is colourful - but I can't say anything good about this CD - and I'm normally very positive.
The orchestral balance is at times very poor. Timpani far too prominent, possibly from bad stick choice, and the clarinet seems to have a spot microphone at times. The opening of the Prokofiev is un-recognisable. There are moments in the soloists playing that do not occupy the same expressive space as the orchestra and disagreements over tempi in a number of places. The full orchestral tuttis sound forced and un-balanced and tonally distorted. The intricate Thalberg technique writing in the Prokofiev is fine technically but lacks the expressiveness demanded, all the notes are there, but there's inconsistency in the execution. Yuga Wang seems unsure of the internal balance of the part writing.
What I am concerned about here is that the raw energy of youthful performance is being promoted as something more important than the meaning of the music. That the music is serving the performers rather than the other way round. As both these works are tour-de-force.
on 15 March 2014
If Wang or Dudamel never make another recording in their lives, their reputations as engaged and communicative musicians have been made by this one. I listened to it right through and was riveted -- and, of course, it helped that the expressive worlds of the two concertos are so different. Rachmaninov's almost manic-depressive changes of tempo, melody, and rhythm within the movements gave one a sense of how the formality of the classical concerto had been broken up. Expressive resources are not divided up by movement but within and through the movements are marshaled to create a kind of narrative that the soloist and orchestra have to guide our ears through. They succeed here because Wang and the orchestra seem highly responsive to one another, and Wang wonderfully submerges herself at times as part of the orchestral texture, so that when she surfaces, so to speak, the movement seems totally natural and part of an integrated progression. This was a live performance, and the sheer dexterity of the pianism is outstanding, and her ability to command the utmost delicacy, occasional humor, and the big splashy moments is quite amazing, especially when the sense of the integrity of the whole is preserved. For all that, almost my favorite part was the orchestral introduction to the second movement -- Dudamel and the orchestra play this with gripping expression, and it sets up the solo entrance marvelously. Just a great account.
Same with Prokofiev's Second. I see this as a creepy nocturne -- it's expressively less rich, the piano is deployed more percussively more often, and the sense of darkness and fear are never far away. The third movement wavers between a march and a dance, creepily both and neither, and the final movement is more of (or as much of) a scherzo as the designated scherzo. I wonder what Mussorgsky would have thought, because the feeling of "Night on the Bald Mountain" is lurking here, albeit in a post-Stravinsky accent. My favorite moment here is when, with tremendous power, the orchestra rises up to join the piano at the end of the first-movement cadenza -- it's like the Creature from the Black Lagoon! Come to think of it, Disney might have had a place for this in "Fantasia." Wang plays it as if she totally believes in it, and the orchestra -- whose winds, by the way, are stellar throughout -- is with her all the way. I would say that this is an indispensable recording.
on 23 June 2016
It is hard to please an audience with one of the most famous piano concertos ever written, Rachmaninov's third. Not only because Rachmaninov himself and Horowitz already set the ultimate standard for its performance, but also because every pianist of name simply needs to play it and try to make the audience hear something new without hurting the intention of the piece. Yuja Wang does a good job in the first movement, staying true to the essence of the music and in fact putting accents where I had not expected them. And all that with impeccable technique, of course. The second movement continues in this promising way, but then simply derails due to the higher and higher tempi chosen towards the end, which obviously transparently continue in a far too fast third movement. Again, all respect for pulling this off technically, but it doesn't do the music justice.
Prokoviev's second concerto is not so frequently performed, which saddens me, for it is my favourite from his piano concertos. Yuja Wang does a stellar job at this terribly difficult concerto, redeeming herself for what she did to Rachmaninov. Playing too fast doesn't hurt so much in e.g. its second movement, after all. The first movement is nicely paced, creating the eerie atmosphere it should have. Get the disc for this concerto alone, you won't be disappointed!