Yuja Wang's Transformation

Friday, April 16, 2010

The 23-year-old Chinese pianist Yuja Wang, who wowed New York audiences with her Carnegie Hall orchestral debut last October, has released her second recording, "Transformation." It's the subject of this week’s Full Rotation.

Wunderkind pianists come and go. Sure, they all can play fast and loud. They can burn up the keyboard and wow the masses. But in her relatively short career, Wang has demonstrated why she is not your typical barnstorming young virtuoso. Raised in Canada since age 14, this young Curtis graduate updates her own Twitter account ("eating junk food at hooters," reads a recent entry) and spends time outside the practice room (she claims to love shopping). She learned about the Grammy nomination for her debut album last year only after a friend alerted her on Facebook. And she clearly has ideas about what makes for a compelling recital program.

In “Transformation,” you’ll find Brahms transforming a theme by Paganini 27 times, Ravel transforming the polite Viennese waltz into wild modern music and Stravinsky turning the puppet Petrushka “into a human being before finally reverting to puppethood,” according to the liner notes.

Okay, so the latter point may be a bit of a stretch. Nevertheless, there’s much to admire here. Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Paganini, Op. 35 flows along naturally with grace, lyricism and a legato worthy of the greatest singers. Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrouchka, transcribed by the composer for Arthur Rubinstein, has a crisp, spiky quality that plays up the caustic, even grotesque themes of the original story. Wang also delights in a pair of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti that are not usual the showy knuckle-busters but rather the more pensive Sonatas in E, K. 380 and in F minor, K. 466. Finally, Ravel's Viennese Waltz becomes a chromatic haze of “wrong-note” harmonies and fractured phrases, all of which Wang executes with superb rhythmic control, dynamic nuance and sure sense of drama.

Yuja Wang, piano

Transformation (Deutsche Grammophon)

Available at Arkivmusic.com

Hear Yuja Wang perform live on WNYC's Soundcheck

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