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Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Sonata No. 3 in B minor Op. 58 (1844) [26:23]
Berceuse Op. 57 (1844) [4:22]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
En Ręve, Nocturne (1885) [2:36]
Sonata in B minor (1852-3) [30:01]
Mu Ye Wu
rec. 2007. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

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.

Chopin’s 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. 

Mu 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.

The 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.

Robert Costin


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