Beethoven, Piano Concertos 1/4, Lang Lang, Orchestre de l'Opéra de Paris
Guest conductor Andrew Litton, of Norway’s Bergen Philharmonic, shone just as brightly as the advertised star of the program. Litton's style was big and almost harried at times, but in the most exciting moments of the program, the orchestra’s sound was truly energized in a way that one doesn’t always hear with the NSO. At the same time, Litton managed to infuse the occasionally overblown with an amount of precision that, though it may not have kept the orchestra perfectly together, came admirably close. The opening work, Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, was from the onset an exciting barrage of sound. When the entire string section of an orchestra plays rushing passage scales at a frenetic tempo, there are bound to be ensemble issues, but Litton worthily held the orchestra together in these moments. The listener was sufficiently primed for the main event at this point that it was unnecessary to present another introductory work, Weber’s Overture to Euryanthe, on the second half, pleasant though it was.
Lang Lang is the kind of performer whom musicians often love to hate, but during the first movement of the Beethoven, I was prepared to dispel this collective prejudice. The first movement was a very fine performance indeed: crisp and clean with the early Beethovenian hints of fire to come. The middle section was especially beautiful, in part because of his use of the pedal, which through delicate fluttering paid a clean, modern tribute to the classical style. Come the second movement, however, what should have been the Lang Lang of yesteryear reared his head. He is famous for his showmanship, of course, and during the second movement it was as if the rapture had descended upon him. True, the music was absolutely gorgeous, but it was also over-Romanticized to the point where it could have easily been confused with a work by Chopin and wholly inappropriate for early Beethoven.
Anne Midgette, Lang Lang and the NSO, trying to look beyond Beethoven's sunny phrases (Washington Post, November 16)
Charles T. Downey, BSO Kicks Off the Season in Style (Washington Post, September 14)
Jens F. Laurson, Ionarts at Large: Falla, Bartók and Tan Dun—Lang Lang enriched (Ionarts, April 12)
Charles T. Downey, Lang Lang @ Kennedy Center (Ionarts, March 13, 2008)
The National Symphony Orchestra goes from superstar to superstar this coming week, with violinist Joshua Bell as the featured soloist, in a program of Lalo, Mendelssohn, and James Macmillan conducted by Hugh Wolff (November 19, 21, and 22).