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CD Review

Maurice Ravel

DGG 4794954

Concertos for Piano

  • Maurice Ravel:
  • Piano Concerto in G Major *
  • Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major *
  • Gabriel Fauré: Ballade for Solo Piano, Op. 19
Yuja Wang, piano
* Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich/Lionel Bringuier
Deutsche Grammophon 4794954
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Ignore all the bare-midriff shots of pianist Yuja Wang. She's a beautiful young woman, but that's not why you'll buy this disc (thankfully, young conductor Lionel Bringuier is fully clothed in his lone photo). Rather, you'll purchase this disc for what is arguably Wang's finest concerto collaboration to date. She's been partnered previously with Gustavo Dudamel and the late Claudio Abbado, and frankly neither disc featured a great orchestra. The Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich is audibly superior to either band she's had, and Bringuier takes over the helm of the ensemble famously led by David Zinman since 1995. I'm not sure if the Ravel Concertos really tell us about his leadership style since his appointment, but Zinman did very little French music, so there is that.

But you won't buy the disc to hear this partnership play Ravel, either (they do quite well, actually). Wang has all the technique these works demand, but aside from empty virtuosity, there is also a need for musicality and a sure sense of style. There's a horrible disc out there somewhere of Richter trying to play Gershwin in his 80s. While he has all the notes, there's absolutely no sense of fun or swing. Critics focus on small, technical details, but music like this needs a certain playfulness to complete the musical picture. The Concerto in G has all the requisite qualities to make it successful, captured in beautiful sound. Perhaps Wang isn't as demonic as Argerich (in either of her recordings with Abbado), but then again, nobody is. Soloist and conductor get inside the idiom with total confidence. Particularly impressive is a beautifully sung slow movement.

In the somewhat darker Concerto for the Left Hand, Wang brings a winning mix of seriousness and daring to this often difficult to balance work. Bringuier has his forces playing with intelligence, though without the ear-catching details that you might wish for. He's not bad, but Abbado and even Ormandy proved more interesting. Comparisons aside, the orchestral playing satisfies, and really doesn't matter in the face of such excellent piano playing. For whatever reason, these concertos don't get recorded as often as they used to, so this disc should please anyone looking for a modern version of these wonderful works. The Fauré is gorgeous and certainly adds to the overall success of this very appealing album.

Copyright © 2016, Brian Wigman