The B minor sonatas of Chopin and Liszt are cornerstones of the
Romantic piano repertory, and the number and quality of recordings
available is an embarrassment of riches. I am sure we all have
our favourites: if pushed I would probably opt for Cortot (1933),
Lipatti and Rubinstein in the Chopin, and Horowitz (1932), Gilels
and Argerich in the Liszt. However, such great music can always
yield new secrets in the right hands, and on this impressive CD
the award-winning Chinese pianist Mu Ye Wu achieves some convincing
interpretations. The two sonatas frame the programme, with Chopin’s
Berceuse and Liszt’s En ręve, nocturne creating a carefully chosen
transition between the two more substantial offerings.
musical gods were Bach and Mozart - the Baroque contrapuntal
master and the Classical perfectionist. Despite his indifference
to the music of his contemporaries, he was a man of his time:
if his works are not explicitly programmatic, strong subjective
currents run through them. Mu Ye Wu’s performance of the Sonata’s
first movement is emotionally cool, with clear textures and
a sparse use of the pedal. He is noticeably freer in the second
subject, producing a finely spun cantabile line - which is also
a notable feature of his performances of the two shorter works.
However, his integration of the more lyrical music into the
overall interpretation is not always completely natural to my
ears. The same ‘Classical’ detachment can be heard in the Largo,
demonstrating a genuine feeling for the style but for me lacking
the last degree of character and involvement. The faster movements,
the Scherzo and Finale, sound more convincing, allowing Mu Ye
Wu to show off his considerable dexterity and musicianship.
Ye Wu’s recording of Liszt’s Sonata seems to me more cohesive
and successful. Crucially, the ambiguous opening immediately
draws the listener in and he sustains the tension and interest
through all the myriad changes of mood. As he demonstrated in
the Chopin, the many technical hurdles create no obstacles for
him, and the more incendiary passages genuinely catch fire.
Perhaps the opening of the slow central movement lacks the last
degree of mystery, but it has a compelling forward thrust to
the climax. All in all, this is a highly impressive achievement
and marks this young pianist out as a Liszt player to watch.
recording quality is acceptable though a little dry, lending the
piano tone a slightly brittle tone in the climaxes. A strong contender,
especially for the Liszt.