Xiayin Wang

The Piano Music of Earl Wild

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Trained in China and the U.S., Xiayin Wang is a rapidly rising star, having moved quickly from the small Marquis label to Naxos, and then onto a gorgeously engineered disc from Chandos, whose technicians do as spectacular a job at the recital-ideal American Academy of Arts and Letters as they do on home turf. Wang has not yet, as the old book by Laurence Peter had it, reached her level of incompetence; this album is breathtaking. Most of it is devoted to works by American pianist-composer Earl Wild that are based on music of Gershwin, and one of the few complaints one might make here is that the booklet notes say nothing about how a young recent immigrant happened to decide to record music that is not well known in America, to say nothing of China. There are three works in this vein, one elaborating a set of tunes from Porgy and Bess, one treating individual songs as what Wild calls Virtuoso Etudes, and one devoted to improvisations (really variations) on a single song, "Someone to Watch Over Me." They are all cut from the same cloth. Beginning with Gershwin's music reproduced straight, Wild created bone-crushingly virtuosic treatments that one might think of as technically idealized versions of the music in the Gershwin Song-Book. The basic thematic material is never far away, but every possible space is filled with counterpoint, arpeggios, and ornaments of every possible kind. Think of what would have happened if Busoni had become enamored of Gershwin, and then kick it up a notch. Wang's control over this material is extraordinary, and the raw power of this slight young woman at the keyboard is not to be believed; check out the string-shattering accents in the finale of the Grand Fantasy on "Porgy and Bess" (track 12), or in many of the Virtuoso Etudes. Wild was a formidable interpreter of most of this music himself (he never performed the Improvisation on "Someone to Watch Over Me"), but it may be that in places Wang outdoes the performances he recorded toward the end of his long life. Wild remained active as a composer himself, and a nice bonus here is the inclusion of the more strictly jazz-influenced Piano Sonata he wrote at the age of 85. A total crowd-pleaser, an extraordinary major-label debut, and an absolute tour de force.

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