Capturing the Light and Shade of two colourful concertos – Yuja Wang plays Ravel

Ravel’s music is, quite simply, unique – and pianist Yuja Wang knows why. “In my opinion,” she says, “it has the exactness of a Swiss clock mechanism, but layered on top of that, it is about pleasure, pure and simple!” 

With their combination of jazz rhythms, sensual beauty and spiky vitality, Ravel’s two piano concertos illustrate her point to perfection, as will be heard on her new album – to be released in October. It also features the original piano solo version of Fauré’s Ballade in F sharp major op. 19. Wang recorded all three works in the spring of this year – in the concertos she was accompanied by the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, the ensemble with which she made her European debut in 2003, aged just 15, and with which she has just spent a season as Artist-in-Residence. On the podium for this new recording was stellar young French conductor Lionel Bringuier, who was unanimously awarded first prize and the Prix du Public at the 49th Besançon Young Conductors Competition in 2005, and went on to be named Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Tonhalle in 2012, at the age of 26. He has now set out to record all of Ravel’s orchestral music with the Tonhalle for Deutsche Grammophon.

Wang and Bringuier have worked together often since she played Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under his direction in Stockholm in 2008. After their Ravel project – Wang’s first venture into French repertoire on disc – they will be joining forces again in November this year to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, “Jeunehomme”, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in LA.

Ravel’s celebrated Piano Concerto in G major and the less familiar Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major are both heavily influenced by jazz – the composer had undertaken a four-month concert tour of North America in 1928, during which he took in the jazz clubs of both Harlem (in the company of George Gershwin) and New Orleans. He then worked on the two concertos concurrently, between 1929 and 1931, and originally planned to give the first performance of the G major work himself. In the event, however, it was Marguerite Long who gave the premiere, under the baton of Ravel, in part because the composer was focused on completing the Concerto for the Left Hand, commissioned by Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm during World War I. The two works are very different in character, the D major Concerto often dark and brooding, the G major more playful, offering a Mozartian clarity and drawing on the translucent style of Saint-Saëns – as, incidentally, does Fauré’s Ballade. The latter is a work for which Yuja Wang has a particular affection because, in its orchestral version, it was the first work she ever played with an orchestra.

Ever since her sensational debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in March 2007, Yuja Wang has been building an extraordinary career, giving concerts with the world’s leading orchestras and regularly joining them on tours of the Americas, Asia and Europe. Since 2009 Deutsche Grammophon has released six recordings with her, most recently an album of concertos by Rachmaninov and Prokofiev (“Wang is a force of nature” – South Florida Classical Review.)

Yuja Wang will soon be appearing with the San Francisco Symphony in its home city before travelling with the orchestra to the Edinburgh Festival and the BBC Proms in London, as well as to festivals in Wiesbaden, Bucharest, Lucerne, Luxembourg, Amsterdam and Paris. In February she makes her debut with the Vienna Philharmonic, performing Mozart’s “Jeunehomme” under Valery Gergiev in both Munich and Paris. Other highlights of the upcoming season include a tour of Asia with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Gustavo Gimeno (in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2), a solo recital at Carnegie Hall in May and, in June, another reunion with Bringuier, for performances of both Ravel concertos with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

With her singular musicality and stylish appearance on stage, Yuja Wang has been fęted not just in the music world but in the pages of international fashion magazines. She is a Steinway Artist and a brand ambassador for Rolex. A video of her playing The Flight of the Bumblebee on YouTube has been viewed almost four million times. As an internet sensation with an immense following, she will bring the vibrant music of Ravel to a whole new audience.

Yuja Wang: Ravel

Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich · Lionel Bringuier

CD 00289 479 4954 · International release October 2015