American Piano Concertos / Wang
BARBER Piano Concerto. COPLAND Piano Concerto. GERSHWIN Piano Concerto • Xiayin Wang (pn); Peter Oundjian, cond; Royal Scottish Natl O • CHANDOS 5128 (SACD: 75:44)
Let’s get this out of the way: this combination of a Chinese pianist, Canadian conductor, and Scottish orchestra delivers some of the most vibrant and stylish takes on these American piano concertos you are likely to hear anywhere. The soloist, Xiayin Wang, delivers the goods with a winning combination of taste and dazzling technique. She resists the temptation to showboat; she has the chops to make the Gershwin a virtuoso blowout, but instead respects, and trusts, the integrity of the score. As someone who still believes that there is such a thing as a nationalistic style in classical music performance, I am going to risk describing Wang as a member of the contemporary Chinese school of pianism, characterized by phenomenal technique anchored by a rock-solid rhythmic control, bright tone, and a big sound that is related to the immense influence of Russian teachers on Chinese pedagogy. The obvious exponents of such a “school” include Lang Lang, Yundi Li, and Yuja Wang.
This approach is ideal for much of the music on this disc. It even brightens up the rather leaden Barber Concerto, which is usually heard in a more darkly brazen manner. Her way with the Copland (a fine early work by the American master that is inexplicably underplayed), which exhibits a delightfully jazzy bent by the composer, and the beloved Gershwin, is utterly captivating and completely idiomatic.
Peter Oundjian, who I have enjoyed hearing in live performance a number of times, seems to me to be an unappreciated conductor. He has an excellent ear for balance and color, but is not an especially flashy musician, which, in the world of high-octane orchestral performance, does not take one to the front of the public stage. This recording reminds me why I admire him; he and his soloist find natural, flowing tempos, excellent clarity of texture, and attractive highlighting of the fine soloists in this world-class ensemble. Add the usual fine engineering from Chandos and you have yourselves a winner of a release.
FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
Catalog Number: CHSA 5128
Composer: Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Samuel Barber
Conductor: Peter Oundjian
Orchestra/Ensemble: Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Performer: Xiayin Wang