Dancing on Ivory: Romantic Transcriptions for Piano
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Ramble on the Last Love-Duet from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier [5:55]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Love Walked In (transcribed by Percy Grainger) [3:20]
Earl WILD (1915-2010)
Concert Etude No 4, on Gershwin’s ‘Embraceable You’ [2:49]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chaconne in D minor, BWV1004 (transcribed by Ferruccio Busoni) [13:30]
Christoph Willibald von GLÜCK (1714-1787)
Melody from Orpheus (transcribed by Abram Chasins) [4:08]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Vocalise (transcribed by Zoltán Kocsis) [5:12]
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Tango in D, Op 165 No 2 (transcribed by Leopold Godowsky) [3:11]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
The Swan (transcribed freely by Leopold Godowsky) [2:53]
Johann STRAUSS Jr (1825-1899)
Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, Op 214 (transcribed by György Cziffra) [4:01]
Adolf SCHULZ-EVLER (1860-1909)
Arabesques on themes from On the Beautiful Blue Danube [10:17]
Jue Wang (piano)
rec. June 2011, Greenfield Recital Hall, Manhattan School of Music, New York, USA
MSR CLASSICS MS 1404 [55:10]
In a way these romantic transcriptions make the perfect debut recital: they combine the familiar with the fresh, the new with the old, and the poetic with the virtuosic. Jue Wang gets an hour-long playground to showcase his expressive talents, technical wizardry and cleverness in building a compelling program. The CD fires on all cylinders.
Wang leads off with three light-hearted appetizers: Percy Grainger’s charming, very free “ramble” on “the Last Love-Duet in Der Rosenkavalier”, and then his similarly free ramble on Gershwin’s “Love Walked In”. Wang’s especially delightful in the jazzed-up Earl Wild étude on Gershwin’s “Embraceable You”, a performance simply dripping in charisma. Next we have a Serious Staple of the repertoire: Busoni’s transcription of the Bach chaconne (that chaconne). It opens with the coldness of pealing bells, but the coldness is a careful choice, demonstrated by the way Wang shades every single subsequent variation, from aching loss to brutal power to (at 4:41) playing of speed and, somehow, frightened lightness. It’s a perfect balance which brought these ears great joy. The ending isn’t quite as devastating as some I’ve heard, but it’s certainly a noteworthy account, especially from a pianist this young (b. March 1984).
The perfect follow-up is a tender reading of a melody from Gluck’s Orpheus, in a plaintive transcription by Abram Chasins. Then we get the marvelous Zoltán Kocsis rendering of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. Although there are a few slight lapses in tonal control, Wang’s ability to turn a soft phrase ever softer at times left me sighing with contentment. That skill returns (after an Albéniz/Godowsky tango) in Godowsky’s heavily filigreed rendering of “The Swan”, where Wang makes sense of all the decorative runs while preserving the arc of the original melody. Still, this transcription has nothing on the tenderness of a reading by a good cellist.
We end with two tracks by Johann Strauss Jr.: the Tritsch-Tratsch Polka, made into a madcap pianistic stomping-ground by the ultimate madcap pianistic stomper, Cziffra. There’s also the free fantasy on themes from On the Beautiful Blue Danube by a certain Adolf Schulz-Evler. Cziffra’s stomp is simply zany from beginning to end, the kind of thing you’d expect from Marc-André Hamelin, but Schulz-Evler is if anything even more audacious. The writing for the very highest keys at the start is so complex even Wang can’t hit all the notes. This last work is also present on Piers Lane’s Hyperion Helios (CDH55238) recital of ‘Virtuoso Strauss Transcriptions’, where even his formidable fingers take 40 more seconds than Wang to blitz through all the virtuoso passages. The list of pianists who have tackled this work is an honor-roll of virtuosi: Hamelin, Byron Janis, Josef Lhévinne, Jorge Bolet and Earl Wild. Lhévinne barreled through the piece at unbelievable speeds which Wang and Piers Lane don’t try to replicate. Wang’s fingers, not always as steady as Lane’s in the opening minute, opt for a middle ground between sheer virtuosity and soft-shoe treatment of the tunes. Hyperion refers to the transcriber not as Adolf but Andrei; he was born in Poland and taught by Carl Tausig in Germany.
Jue Wang is one to watch, then. He has the technique and is working on tenderness to match; he has the ability to dispatch any difficulty which we expect from any young pianist, and the ability to capture a work’s sensibility which we expect only from the best. There is room for growth here, both in the sonics, which accurately capture the homey acoustic of American conservatory recital halls, and in Wang’s occasional and very slight mishandling of the tenderest phrases (see “The Swan”). These are nitpicks, and the adventurousness of the program here is a very good sign indeed. I enjoyed this CD a great deal and am excited to see what this pianist will bring us next.
An adventurous program which exposes a strong young pianist truly coming into his own.