If performing classical music only involved executing the symbols in the score with impeccable precision, Yuja Wang would be a superlative classical practitioner. As in her debut disc of sonatas by Chopin, Liszt, and Scriabin, the Chinese pianist's second release amply demonstrates her transcendental skills. Entitled Transformation, it includes Stravinsky's arrangement of three movements from his ballet Petrushka, Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Paganini, and Ravel's La Valse, plus a pair of sonatas by Scarlatti, the E major K. 380 and the F minor/C major K. 466. The Stravinsky, Brahms, and Ravel works are among the most difficult in the repertoire, while the Scarlatti sonatas are brief interludes between the main courses. Whatever the piece, Wang dispatches it with imperious perfection. Maurizio Pollini cannot top her giddy virtuosity in Petrushka, nor can Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli beat her relentless impetuosity in the Paganini Variations. And even a full symphony orchestra could hardly make a bigger impression in La Valse than Wang.
Her technique, though, is irrelevant, because while it is beyond reproach, her interpretations are beneath contempt. She plows through the Stravinsky transcription without the least hint that the notes mean more to her than obstacles on her path to the double bar. Where Pollini's no less virtuosic performance is tremendously exhilarating, Wang's is merely exhausting. Similarly, she zooms through Brahms' variations without pausing to admire the view. Michelangeli's probing but no less exciting performance is endlessly fascinating, but Wang's is quickly irritating. One could also point out her technically brilliant but interpretively vapid account of La Valse, or her rhythmically hot but interpretively cold readings of the two Scarlatti sonatas. Listeners dazzled by technical perfection will likely enjoy Wang's second album as much as her first, while listeners who prefer thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and emotional engagement to flash and glitter will probably enjoy neither. Deutsche Grammophon's digital sound is bright, crisp, and clear.