This well recorded disc from 2011 joins the growing discography of this outstanding young pianist.
Yuja Wang, on this disc, plays a wide range of her favourite encores. Suffice it to say that these performances are spectacular or sensitive as appropriate and that none of the spontaneity of her many live performances has been lost in these studio versions. This set of encores differs in intent from many others such collections of encores. To understand why, the following quote from Yuja Wang herself may help to explain:
An encore, as described by Yuja,is 'something that is both ephemeral and truthful. It's a temporary mood, reciprocated by the audience. They're pieces I've played for so long that they've become a part of me. It's a king of record of how my heart is feeling at the moment...... People assume that an encore is something showy, but, for me, it's a little moment of tenderness from the heart.'
The primary intention of this disc is therefore, the sharing of the joy of the moment of creation rather than any intentional delight of showmanship. Nevertheless it is also true to say that showmanship is inevitable as a consequence of many of the pieces played in the program. Many the pieces could be described in this way and particular favourites will be chosen according to individual listeners' personal preferences.
To give some sort of idea of the variety and range of the pieces and playing presented here, the Tritsch-Tratsch Polka is an especial joy as it was so much better recorded than the U-Tube alternative. The Carmen and Danse Macabre have all the sparkle and devilry associated with the arranger, Horowitz. The Sorcerer's Apprentice, arranged by Staub and adjusted by Yuja to fit her hand-size, is delightfully ear-tickling and, by contrast, the Chopin waltz is meltingly beautiful. The Schubert shows a wonderful control of developing textures building to an emotional peak in a surprisingly short time. The rest of the program is equally enjoyable and varied, finishing with a spectacular version of the Liszt/Horowitz arrangement of the Saint Saens Danse Macabre.
The DGG recording is excellent with accurate piano sound and not balanced too close. There is a real sense of air around the sound stage.
This is a very attractive and nicely varied program played to perfection and matches Yuja Wang's own description above of her approach to encores. There are also two concert performances of concertos worth considering both of which radiate the same sense of joy in music making. There is a 2009 Mendelssohn concert on DVD featuring her in the first piano concerto and the Piano sextet. There is also an outstanding Prokofiev third piano concerto recorded at Lucerne with Abbado in 2009 and available as a DVD or Blu-ray.
In the meantime, I would suggest that this disc of encores deserves serious consideration as purchase option
Yuja Wang has chosen a captivating programme on this disc and it makes for a very satisfying sequence. If there is a dominant note it is the Russian theme suggested by a number of Rachmaninov and Scriabin pieces in two blocks. They are brilliantly played; right from the opening chromatic runs you know you are in for something special, as she is able to nuance the dynamics in an amazing way for such a note-filled phrase. Virtuosity abounds in this recital - personally I love the arrangement of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and also Horowitz's scintillating take on Carmen, which I had previously only heard from Kissin's fingers, but Wang is able to dispatch it with just as much digital brilliance. Plus another Horowitz arrangement just in case we thought her playing was a fluke ... There's also a very yearning arrangement of Gluck's beguiling Melodie showing a superb control of tone - everything sounds so beautifully integrated. The cover photo is very effective in the context of the Fantasia title, and a number of other photos work as variations on a theme - for once this plethora of images seems justified by the imaginative concept. Her thick black wings suggest to me two enormous rusks, or a variant on the boa, and seem to vary in size. They hint at the 'demonic' aspect of her technique, as with Paganini, and are somehow playful in the best sense.
I was introduced to this pianist by the actor, Tom Conti who featured her in the radio programme, 'Inheritance Tracks'. He was right--she has indeed that rare quality of having 'magic hands' that make her stand out amongst the many modern musicians of profound technical ability. Hearing is believing!