Avan Yu - A Laudable Debut

Winner of the 2012 Sydney International Piano Competition, the Canadian pianist Avan Yu (born 1987) devotes his Naxos CD debut to Schubert songs transcribed by Franz Liszt. He offers all but two of the 12 Winterreise transcriptions, plus 10 selections from Liszt’s piano version of the entire posthumously published Schwanengesang cycle.

Liszt’s lavish filigree may sound a little overloaded by purist standards, yet he always treats the melodies with respect and intelligent registral deployment. Many young virtuosos plow through these transcriptions with little indication that they know the original songs. Avan Yu, however, brilliantly reconciles Schubert’s melodic trajectory with Liszt’s intricate textures.

In Winterreise’s Mut, for example, Yu differentiates the accompaniment’s springing rhythms and the legato vocal line through touch and timbre, while Das Wirtshaus’ arpeggio waves maintain a discreet background, even at climaxes. In Schwanengesang I’m especially impressed by how Yu gives shape and meaning to Am Meer’s tremolos, rather than rattling them off in the manner of a silent movie pianist. Likewise, Kriegers Ahnung’s chromatic flourishes and double notes convey appropriate flair yet never overstep their supporting role.

It would have been nice if Liszt’s six remaining transcriptions from these cycles had also been included, but one shouldn’t complain in light of Yu’s highly appealing artistry. On the basis of the present release, plus a number of YouTube links that feature some excellent Debussy Etudes and a complete audio-only Liszt Sonata, I’d like to hear more of Avan Yu both on disc and in concert.

Jed Distler,
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