'...a brilliant showcase for pianist Yuja Wang and maestro Gustavo Dudamel, two of the biggest sensations on the label...Wang's playing is clear and generally well-balanced in the audio mix...[Prokofiev 2]: the solo part is always audible, and the accompaniment is, for the most part, quite transparent...this exciting performance really deserves top billing.' AllMusic.com
'[Rachmaninov 3]: the piano part's swirling textures benefit from Wang's fanciful voicings, imaginative rubatos, and frisky, dead-on accurate fingerwork...many memorable moments highlight this promising [release].' ClassicsToday.com
'[Wang] just plays magnificently, with real respect for the music...Gustavo Dudamel and his Simón Bolívar Orchestra are sympathetic accompanists.' Daily Mail
Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto is less popular than his third, which presents perhaps a greater challenge to the soloist, particularly in the long and ferociously complex first-movement cadenza. This highly concentrated, four-movement work occupies a dark sphere in its composer's psyche: Prokofiev wrote it in 1912-13 in memory of a friend from the St Petersburg Conservatory, Maximilian Schmidthof, who had taken his own life. The original score was destroyed in a fire after the Russian Revolution of 1917: Prokofiev subsequently redrafted it, and gave the new version's première himself in 1924.
'It's very powerful emotionally', says Wang. 'The piece is really demanding for both me and the orchestra. But I love playing it because there's so much character and so much colour. There are qualities that are unique to this concerto: sinister, sarcastic, abstract ideas that can come off only when we're playing absolutely together." Dudamel adds: "For us, it's also a big technical challenge - and it's an amazing piece, very compact and very well constructed'.
Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 is the longest, most ambitious and most notoriously complex in technical terms of his works for piano and orchestra. It was written just three years before the Prokofiev concerto, in 1909, yet its romanticism seems to breathe the air of the 19th century rather than the 20th, to which Prokofiev's so evidently belongs.
'This of course is one of the most famous of all piano concertos', says Dudamel, 'and the important thing is to have a soloist who really connects with the orchestra. It can sometimes be a piece in which the pianist feels inspired in the moment, does his or her own thing and the orchestra has to follow - but Yuja has a wonderful quality in that she listens to us all the time. We connect as if we were playing chamber music'.
Wang's accounts of the work around the world have been praised in no uncertain terms, with the San Francisco Chronicle, for one, noting 'the depth and imagination she brought to the entire score, and the way she made the piece's virtuosic angle just one part of its purpose'.
The pianist herself remarks that one of this concerto's greatest challenges for the soloist is how to maintain the narrative line across the music's substantial span. 'It's a long story, very Russian', she says, 'and full of every kind of emotion. It's been recorded many times, but I'm happy that this recording captures the energy levels of our live performance. I think it's a little explosive, but controlled and very communicative.'
Wang first heard the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, New York, a few years ago, and she recalls being bowled over by the energy, enthusiasm and power of its young players. 'I think it was the most exciting concert I've been to," she says. "It made people feel like they're living in another world. And that's what music should do to people, it's the essence of music.'
Working with them did not disappoint: 'They are all around my own age, which doesn't happen often, and what has really struck me is how responsive they are. In the rehearsals I found that if I asked them to do something in the music, they'd not only do it at once, but they'd do it about a thousand times better than I'd imagined. I could have gone on rehearsing for hours and hours because I was having so much fun.'
Dudamel feels that this is a landmark recording for the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra: 'It is the first album we've recorded with a soloist', he says, 'and that's something important, because previously the orchestra has always recorded symphonic music - Mahler, Beethoven, Stravinsky ... We were waiting to record with a soloist who could connect with us in this way. Yuja is very young and very talented, we're of the same generation and together we are all building a new generation of musicians and audiences. It's great that we are recording with her in Simón Bolívar Hall in our centre here in Caracas'.