With the vast plenitude of recordings of Sergey Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, one has to wonder why Yuja Wang and Claudio Abbado chose these blockbusters for her first album with an orchestra. There are many possible reasons, including the composer's instant name recognition, the performers' preference for the music, and the obvious potential for Wang's career advancement. But the most apparent one is that the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is the right ensemble to accompany her in these pieces, and the combination is surprisingly good. In the concerto, Wang's delicate and refined playing might have been obscured by Rachmaninov's thick mid-range scoring, and a large orchestra would have made recording her extremely difficult, if not utterly pointless. But Wang is perfectly audible with scaled-down forces, so the concerto works brilliantly in this case. The Rhapsody is a more skillfully wrought composition, and it offers more transparent orchestral writing. Here, Wang's performance with the orchestra almost has the intimate feeling and clarity of chamber music, and everything sounds fantastic. Abbado certainly knows how to balance the sound of the orchestra to complement Wang, and the partnership between conductor and soloist works well to show the music to best advantage. For listeners who have found Rachmaninov's music to be a bit opaque, this CD is worth hearing, especially for the open textures of the Rhapsody.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43|
|Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18|
3. Allegro scherzando - Moderato - Allegro scherzando - Presto - Moderato - Allegro scherzando - Alla breve. Agitato - Presto - Maestoso - Risoluto