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Yuja Wang: Sonatas & Etudes

Few young female pianists can compete with French legend Helene Grimaud, yet Yuja Wang is most likely on her way to become one of the exceptions. Her Sonatas & Etudes: Chopin, Scriabin, Liszt and Ligeti (Deutschegrammophon) is a sign that Wang is already growing into a formidable presence.

A native of China, Wang was trained at the Beijing Conservatory before moving to Canada at the age of fourteen. She then moved to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, in the United States. She is going to perform with Lucerne Festival Orchestra with Claudio Abbado this coming summer – so here is a chance to see her live.

The debut CD features the works of Frederic Chopin, Gyorgy Ligeti, Alexander Scriabin, and Franz Liszt. While Wang is a young performer in need of more confidence, her growing maturity is demonstrated through the Chopin’s Piano Sonata no.2.

Apart from retaining the romantic nature of the Sonata, she is able to bring her own interpretation – full of rich sounds. The full tone Wang generates in the second movement produces a warm and lovely atmosphere. However, in the third movement, Wang can be slow in her pace – so as to the bring out the nature of the third movement as a funeral march. In the last movement, the excellent performances picks up. Wang plays out the speedy, romantic fast movement with great skill.

For the two short works of Ligeti , Etude 4:Fanfares and 10: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – no words other than “Master” can be used to describe Wang’s style. She thoroughly illustrates the fast, yet mechanical nature of Etude 4. For 10: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Wang creates an impressive sound through showing the rapid pace – she is great at switching between theup and down tones in different sections of the work.

When it comes to Scriabin’s Piano Sonata no.2, Wang exerts great control over the flow of the first movement. The pace Wang creates in the first half of the movement strikes the right balance between the slow and speedy parts of the work. It must be noted, however, that the excessive lower sound Wang produces makes the second part of the first movement full of sadness, instead of reflecting the state of peace and harmony associated with this work. Much like with Chopin, Wang compensates her Scriabin performance with her terrific concentration.

Last but not least is Liszt’s Piano Sonata. Wang, apparently, has found this one an especially difficult piece, but she does a marvelous job of suddenly changing the tone from slow to very fast at the beginning of the first movement. Wang also inhabits the sad, melodic second and third movements like a natural.

For a debut CD, this one is a keeper. Most importantly, it is instantly obvious that with more experience, Wang will most likely conquer new heights. Time – something she has an abundance of – will tell whether she will become the next Chinese super-pianist. A career similar to the likes of Yundi Li and Lang Lang could very well be Wang’s future.

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Jonathan Mok

Jonathan Mok lives in Hong Kong. He reviews music and literature. Some of his chief interests include American and Middle Eastern politics.