Classical Music Guide Forums - Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - Written by Donald Isler

Yuan Sheng Recital


Debussy – Suite Bergamasque
Debussy – Estampes
Debussy – L’isle joyeuse
Ravel – Sonatine
Ravel – Le Tombeau de Couperin

On arrival at Mannes College this evening I learned that two upcoming recitals this week are already sold out. This one should have been, too.

I first heard Yuan Sheng about nine years ago, playing an all-Chopin recital. I subsequently heard him play an all- Bach recital, and several programs with mixed repertoire. He returned to Bach at his IKIF recital last year with a performance of the Goldberg Variations which made a profound impression on his audience.

This year, perhaps with the 150th anniversary of the birth of Debussy and the 75th anniversary of the death of Ravel in mind, he turned to French repertoire. And, as usual, his interpretations were convincing and impressive.


Because, I think, he has the sensitivity and sophistication to get into the sound world of whatever music he’s playing and, without imposing himself in an egotistical way, make his conception of it work. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be played differently. But one doesn’t argue with him. One readily accepts the way he plays the music.

Having heard David Dubal’s program on Debussy a few nights ago, which included voluptuous and overwhelming recorded performances by Gieseking and Michelangeli, I was nevertheless reminded of yet another aspect of music of this genre by Yuan Sheng this evening, namely an almost classical quiet and restraint that can sometimes tug at the heartstrings. One heard this often, as well as the great swirls of sound in other places, ie. the whirlwind in the last movement of the Ravel Sonatine, and the frenzy, and huge sustained sound at the end of the Toccata from Le Tombeau. And everything in between.

Mr. Sheng has a very big dynamic range, and the musicianship to hold one’s attention, either through the senses or the intellect, or both. He will not, for instance, play a phrase with rubato without subtly altering the rubato when it comes around again. Not surprisingly, when he played an encore, Debussy’s The Girl With the Flaxen Hair, it was more interestingly and expressively played than usual. And, with no trouble at all, he went from a quasi-religious Japanese sensibility in Pagodes to a longing, romantic Spanish atmosphere in La soirée dans Grenade.

This is an artist who seems to play everything well, and certainly deserves greater recognition.

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