|Wu Qian and Yuja Wang: China’s new piano stars
||[May. 22nd, 2009|11:54 am]
China’s fabled 30 million piano students haven’t yet thrown up the hoped-for army of stars. Among the few to have emerged, Lang Lang may be the most prominent, but he’s a mere peasant compared to his aristocratic coeval Yundi Li, whose playing and demeanour are oddly Chopinesque. (I sense Lang Lang is at least dimly aware of this. I once asked him how he rated Yundi Li: he clammed up, and his face clouded over.)
There are even fewer young females in the lists. This is no surprise, given the one-child policy and the ‘little emperor’ tradition of which Lang Lang is such a fine example. But as it happens, two of China’s brightest young (expatriate) female hopes have just released debut discs: Wu Qian (25, pictured left) and Yuja Wang (21, pictured right). Both began in Chinese conservatories, but spent their teens training in the West - Wu at the Menuhin school and the Royal Academy, Wang at the Curtis Institute - and their approaches to the keyboard are Westernised in a manner which Lang Lang’s, for example, is absolutely not. Both are formidable pianists; both are articulate about art and literature, as well as music; both have notably independent minds. Their repertoire overlaps in Liszt, but Wang tends towards the translucency of Ligeti, while Wu is at her most comfortable with Schumann. Of the two, Wu is the one whose music I prefer to live with: there’s something too careful, almost clinical, about Wang’s perfection, while Wu’s sound has a wonderfully resonant warmth.
So check them out and make your own comparison: "Yuja Wang: Chopin, Scriabin, Liszt, Ligeti" (Deutsche Grammophon), and "Wu Qian: Schumann, Prior, Liszt" (Dal Segno). This latter would have been a perfect Cd, had Wu Qian not misguidedly invited the 16-year-old Alex Prior - a boy making waves at the moment - to contribute a piece: his 20 pretentious and leaden minutes fatally drag down her lovely work with Kreisleriana and Petrarch Sonnet No 104. (By all means include a new young composer to leaven the greats: just make sure their music can cut it.)
Meanwhile Wu Qian is carving out a glittering career with the Sitkovetsky Piano Trio, which she dominates (pace the excellent violinist) with immense style: catch them if you can.