Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2; Paganini Rhapsody

The artist who has wowed the piano world goes big

Author: 
Jeremy Nicholas

Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No 2; Paganini Rhapsody

  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2
  • Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

Every new release by this marvellously gifted pianist is eagerly anticipated, none more than this, billed as “her first concerto recording” (if you missed her playing the Mendelssohn G minor Concerto with Masur on DVD – 1/11 – snap it up). The two works are not Abbado’s natural habitat but he recorded both of them once before (for CBS in 1983) with Cecile Licad who, curiously, was then 22 years old – the same age as Yuja Wang is now.

The first time I listened to this recording I was impressed by the Paganini Rhapsody and less so by the Concerto, not from any concerns about Wang’s handling of the work but because of the muddy bass sound, the frequent emphasising of secondary material at the expense of the soloist’s audibility and a lack of purpose in the first movement (Abbado takes a sluggish view of the maestoso/alla Marcia section), a far cry from the clarity and sweep of Earl Wild (1965 in superb sound – Chandos). By the third hearing I was less distracted by these reservations and more ready to admire Wang’s exquisitely limpid phrasing (such as the six bars at 7'15" in the last movement) and the rest of her heartfelt performance.

The technical demands of the Rhapsody (Variation 24 for example) hold no terrors for her, of course, and her trademark impetuosity, which she injects into the bravura variations, is thrilling. But, more importantly, she is also an artist with that unteachable ability to tug at the emotions without recourse to sentimentality, as her playing of the famous Variation 23 beautifully illustrates.

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