Ever since Roger Woodward made the first commercial recording of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony in Liszt’s solo piano transcription, a good number of pianists have followed suit. To my list of top contenders Cyprien Katsaris, Yury Martynov, and Gabriele Baldocci, we can add Paul Wee.
His fleet basic tempos for the opening movement and the Scherzo raise the bar for lightness, crisp articulation, and forward moving intensity, making his colleagues sound thick by comparison. Wee’s remarkable technique particularly impresses in the Finale’s incisively delineated counterpoint. What staggeringly even runs!–not to mention Wee’s ability to play rapid left-hand octaves more proficiently than most pianists can play single lines.
In the Funeral March, Wee resists pushing ahead in the fughetta, resolutely holding his tempo in the manner of Toscanini’s granitic 1939 NBC Symphony recording. However, I think it’s more pianistically effective to make an assiduous acceleration toward the climax, which Baldocci does with power and inevitability. I also prefer the gravitas Baldocci conveys in his slightly slower yet fuller-bodied opening section. Yet this takes nothing away from Wee’s transcendent achievement.
The main challenge of Alkan’s solo piano transcription of Mozart’s D minor concerto is to differentiate solo passages and orchestral tuttis by way of phrasing, touch, voice leading, smart pedaling, and dynamic control. Wee does this brilliantly throughout. He sounds like two separate pianists in the Romanze’s turbulent minore episode, where one must balance the melodic interplay between high and low registers with the busy triplet figurations in the middle. Indeed, Wee’s awesome mastery leaves Jose Raul Lopez’s slower, heavy-handed Toccata Classics recording at the starting gate.
Andrew Keener’s production cannot quite mitigate the Wyastone Concert Hall’s slightly diffuse resonance, yet Wee’s formidable sonority and projection unquestionably register. All I can say is “Wow, Wee!”