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on 23 August 2017
Yuja Wang has such incredible talent and originality as a pianist. Sometimes she works wonders with the dynamics, and I hear nuances in her playing (not only in this Rachmaninov, but in some of the Chopin I've heard her play] that I've never heard any from any other pianist. This disc is an early one, perhaps even her first professional recording, but the listener would never know that. The pieces here are among my all-time favourites, brilliantly executed.
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on 20 March 2017
One of the worlds best pianists - a joy to listen to
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on 1 August 2017
All OK.
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on 7 March 2011
With her first two solo discs Yuja Wang gave us a beautifully varied selection of pieces which not only demonstrated her astoundingly effortless technique but also much rarer qualities like an imaginative approach, stylistic sensitivity, and communicative joy - all the more amazing for an artist of her age. Her debut concert album, however, is a far less original choice to start with (although apparently it was Claudio Abbado who suggested her to tackle these two multi-recorded Rachmaninov works) and unfortunately never really attains the same state of grace of the preceding discs. Of course, it continues to confirm her as a beautifully gifted and thoughtful artist, but at the end of the day, Wang's Rachmaninov remains as yet too predictable and lacks the freshness and individuality that would have given her a chance amidst the numerous competition.

Part of the problem might be maestro Abbado who has been recording and performing Rachmaninov concertos with different soloists over the years. With his refined but distant accompaniment you won't find any, damn the notion, "Slavonic" excesses or vulgarity here. Neither will you find much genuine warmth or passion. Everything is delivered in a polished and controlled fashion, sounding perfectly harmless. In fact he secures a hyper-objective approach to music that still sounds best when spiced with at least some shots of emotion unless you prefer your Rachmaninov as a purely instrumental demonstration. Abbado keeps a tight grip upon the proceedings and seems to be holding back Wang on some occasions (most clearly in the poco più mosso section of the Adagio sostenuto of the 2nd concerto, or in the finale of the concerto which sounds very little maestoso). The Mahler Chamber Orchestra with its neutral, smallish and indifferent sound is in this respect his ideal instrument.

The "Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini" is undoubtedly the best part of this disc. Wang cuts each variation with plenty of sparkle, coloring and shading to good effect, while the overall chamber-like approach suits this piece better than the concerto. Yet, here too, we have heard even more imaginative and brilliant playing (Denis Matsuev's recent recording with Valery Gergiev comes to mind). The concerto fares less well and there is a feeling that soloist and conductor seem to disagree about the pace. The Moderato is hesitant, the Adagio sostenuto too timid, with slowness posing for melancholy. Instead of grandeur, big gestures, or real excitement that transcends the obligate fireworks climaxes, there are some lapses of tension. This is not "Brief Encounter" but rather "Wie Lange Noch?" Again, it's hard to blame Wang's playing, but she doesn't give us many hints she really has something to say in Rachmaninov. For that the presence of the revered sage maestro seems a little too dominant. Perhaps a Rachmaninov solo recital might have been a better option? In any case, long-time references like Janis/Dorati, Ashkenazy/Haitink, Wild/Horenstein, Richter/Wislocki or indeed the composer himself remain unchallenged.

The sound of these concerts (recorded live in Ferrara, Italy in April 2010) is mastered rather low and confirms the small-scaled approach. Wang is clearly balanced in the overall sound picture, but her piano lacks a beautiful sound in this recording. She was much better served by the engineers for her first albums. No awards either for the DG marketing guys for promoting Ms. Wang in this hilarious phony "Russian" outfit that is only good to annoy one or two animal activists.
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on 6 May 2012
There have been numerous recordings of these two works over the years. To be worthy of a purchase, a newcommer really has to have something very special going for it. At first I thought that perhaps this met the criteria. In my view the pianist certainly has a good technique, and is generally well heard.

As I listened more, I found that there was a certain something missing. For months I really found it hard to put my finger on quite what it was. In the end I realised that it was a combination of the rather 'automated' rubato (but at least it is not overdone) and the compression of the dynamic range. Quiet passages sound almost as loud as louder passsages. Whilst the latter allows every note from the piano to be heard and not be drowned out by the orchestra. I can't help feeling that when the piano is being played in loud passages it actually sound quieter than when it is being played in quieter passsages.

I think I could live with one or the other of these limitations, but the combination of the two makes for a result that just doesn't grow on me in the way that the best performances and recordings of these pieces do.

Others may well be happy with the performance and recording, but overall, I think there are better performances and recordings to be found.
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on 17 September 2016
All OK.
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on 4 May 2011
We all know how sitcoms laughs are being applied masterfully to serve the action and give relief to dialogues. In classical music there is a fine line between a true live album with minor edits and some engineered product where live and rehearsal performances are mixed to a degree of sophistication that may confine to deception.

Indeed Deutsche Grammophon knows it so well that they cleverly wrote legally bulletproof information in the credits: "Recordings: Ferrara, Teatro communale di Ferrara, 4/2010". It is quite vague considering this whole affair was a special, one event concert... Translation: despite all our subliminal efforts showing the soloist and conductor in concert attire, having the soloist talk about her live experience and bringing applause at the end to induce listeners and owners of this product into believing it was all live, nowhere is it written that this CD is in fact a "live" recording of the April 11, 2010 Ferrara performance. Perhaps DG should take inspiration from the food industry and label it "may contain some live extracts"...

Even UK critic Norman Lebrecht wrote "The recording was taken live a year ago in Ferrara, Italy, with sound as good as it gets from Sid McLauchlan and Stephan Flock."

And it'll get better! Even in Wang's immaculate recording, a mesmerized audience breathing ever so quietly would never be quiet enough that arrays of microphones could not pick it up, especially in the Adagio. Yet this is the technological miracle we were treated to, a mat sound over perfect silence pervasive during the first two movements but that evaporated in the Concerto's third movement. The piano became finally audible, warmer (with a hot finish by analogy with wine tasting) while the change in the sound bloom was unmistakable on a professional system. It exposed the trick. Even the Rhapsody was not immune to long substitutions and even blanks between variations and one can point out multiple switches between reverberant and less reverberant sections in it. I would happily compare my report card with DG's editing logs! I suggest picking these up as a great game to try at home, between friends!

Ah, friends... Quoting Lebrecht: "Anyone who doubted that Yuja Wang is the real deal will be bowled over by this release." Bowled over yes, but not exactly the way he envisaged it...

But he is not alone in believing the whole thing was live. In their CD reviews tab, DG's website highlights some strategic quotes from other esteemed critics, strategic only because none of them mention their authors' unadulterated belief about a live recording!

Colin Anderson's Classicalsource.com review dated 23. March 2011 begins with the statement "Recorded live, both these performances shed fresh light on two of Rachmaninov's best-known pieces", gone, my son, gone!

But the palm should be awarded to Janos Gereben who, his bio tells us, "writes about music, theater, and film for the San Francisco Examiner and other publications. Previously, he served as arts editor of the Post Newspaper Group, and music editor of The Seattle Times and San José Mercury News."
This great one doesn't take gloves and emphatically titles his San Francisco Classical Voice March 22, 2011 prostration: "Yuja: The Greatest Russian of Them All?" How about that?
Perceptive ear, he insists on "Still, it is in the 1901 Second Piano Concerto, in C minor, Op. 18, that the intensity is even more palpable. The live recording, made in Ferrara's Teatro Communale, has a sound of immediacy, free of studio overengineering. Yuja's exceptional strength is put to good use for the introductory tolling of the bells that builds tension heralding the appearance of the main theme. Her arpeggios are full and strong. Abbado and the orchestra are leaders, followers -- partners in music-making of the highest order."
Here is what listening to crappy mp3 format leads to... Yet, for a record label and its engineers, such praise should warm their hearts and deserve an inclusion in the official reviews. In vain: only the tacky latest portion of the quote made it!
Obviously the "live" attribute is on the menu of the apologists but not on the label's own, or only as innuendo. This triumph of "overengineering" is to be celebrated discreetly.

So let's help these critics and break the sad truth to potential buyers: here is the result based on the discernable alternating sound attributes in the Abbado/Wang DG release showing what I believe represent the respective "live" performance time versus rehearsal/studio time.
During the listening process, the timing of edits presents an uncertainty of few seconds since one has to adjust to the sound bloom change before declaring a switch with confidence. Correlatively, other minor edits are likely to be missed. Some however are unmistakable such as the 8:25 transition from studio to live in the Moderato of the Concerto where a mat, dry, clean sound and subdued piano with a veiled upper register changes to a reverberant hall where the piano is better delineated, its upper notes becoming "hot" and the orchestra sounds more open, a character shared by the third movement and applauses following the Concerto.

Concerto No.2:
First Movement, Moderato: 41% live, 59% studio
Second Movement, Adagio: 26% live, 74% studio
Third Movement, Allegro: 89% live, 11% studio
Thus overall, 52% live versus 48% studio

Rhapsody on a Paganini Theme: 50% live, 50% studio

In essence, the CD comprises as much live performance than studio rehearsal time, a distribution that hardly could qualify as cosmetic editing.
Hence it is logical and wise for DG - unlike others- to refrain claiming this as a "live" recording of the April 2010 Ferrara concert. Yet their marketing plays on the ambiguity and many fell for it. Rather than lamenting and hoping it will cure itself, here is a suggestion: fat level disclosing is mandatory by law on food labels, how come the amount of patch editing in classical music so called live recordings could not be known to a buyer?

Simply put: as of now, it is buyer beware!

Finally one can smile at these supposed arbitrers of musical taste who all pinch their noses when discussing Rachmaninov's music, just to find it fully acceptable when the right marketing and product command it! Once again, Gereben culminates in bad taste, as if a pianist's poor reading should reflect on the composer: "For the Adagio and Allegro, so often overdone (and thus creating some less-than-enthusiastic Rachmaninov fans), there is balance here and the right sound between excess and holding back too much. The Italian maestro and the Chinese-American pianist get the Russian essence of the composer for a big, resounding "DA!""

So what about the music?

In the notes Wang is quoted saying "it was a challenge to bring out the harmonies..." Indeed she is nowhere to be heard, overpowered or underperforming like in the Adagio of the Concerto. As to what is the meaning of all this music? Let's defer to the soloist to enlighten us: in her promo video filmed last November on the Hamburg sand, Yuja giggles about the Concerto No. 2, "in the 2nd movement there is lots of dialogue between the piano and the woodwinds" and the strings provide "a good carpet" for the soloist, "heart wrenching" no doubt, tee-hee!


P.S.: And now there is the other kind of reviewer, who obviously must have read the amazon.com comment and serious questions about the amount of LIVE in this recording, but prefers to justify the tricks while putting his own disclaimer:

William Hedley in a review dated April 11, 2011 for MusicWeb International writes: "A word of warning, though. The performance of the concerto is live, and that of the Rhapsody may also be, but the only mention of this is in the booklet essay, with no sign at all on the outside. The audience is absolutely silent during the music, but then there's the phantom bravo-shouter: he's enough of a pest at concerts, and not everyone wants to invite him home."

Mr. Hedley calls this Rachmaninov Concerto "refreshing"... What would have been refreshing is a thorough investigation and a call for full disclosure of editing from any label the moment applauses are featured in the disc rather than a half hearted disclaimer!
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on 21 April 2012
I have over 500 piano CD's and DG's are usually the worst.
No change here, this has to be one of the worst recorded Rach.

As usual DG kills the sound of the piano and only gives you the orchestra.
I cant tell you if Wang is playing well or not, I could not hear it.

Don't waste your money.
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on 21 November 2013
This is the best Rachmaninov 2nd Piano concerto recording I had ever heard so far, much better than my beloved Decca Askenazy recording.

Fantastic MCO playing under distinguish Mr Abbado.

Just ignore the previous review concerning the recording quality. This recording is dine.

Highly recommended.
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on 13 May 2016
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