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Lang Lang Takes Off to Liszt

George A. Pieler continues his Piano-Recital April with this review from Lang Lang's performance at Strathmore, where he also heard Messrs. Serkin and Li, while catching Mr. Reichenbach at the Swiss Embassy.

Lang Lang - Photo by Kasskara, courtesy Deutsche GrammophonWith two Lang Lang experiences under the belt for this season (disappointing Mozart in Chicago, stunning Chopin with the NSO in December), I approached his WPAS-organized Strathmore recital with no fixed expectation. Mr. Lang’s challenging Thursday program left no doubt that he is a rare throwback to the old-fashioned keyboard virtuoso with the chops to take risks and the daring to do so. Not all those risks pan out.

Mr. Lang warmed up with the night’s Mozart du jour, the B-flat sonata, K. 333. As with his Chicago Mozart (Concerto 24) his playing was fluent and elegant, note-precise, and a bit cold. Mr. Lang may not know what he wants from Mozart, but at moments he clearly thinks “what can I do with this music” rather than “what can I do for this music.” Mozart came through, especially in the fanciful concluding rondo, but this is not yet a match made in heaven.

In receding order of awfulness:
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Carnegie Recital, Lang Lang

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"Memory" Recital, Lang Lang

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Tchaikovsky/Mendelssohn, 1st Piano Concertos, Lang Lang, Barenboim, CSO
Schumann’s Fantasy in C, one of the most symphonic pieces in the piano repertoire, started with great promise and sweep, the passionate, long-breathed phrases promising great things. The music, as can happen with Schumann, doesn’t always sustain that promise and can sound episodic: which, unlike say Carnaval, it isn’t meant to be. Mr. Lang did not meld the piece together enough to overcome that, though there was little to criticize moment-by-moment, a few over-dramatic pauses aside. The high points included a stunning articulation of the march-theme which dominates the central section, and ample poetry in the Langsam conclusion. Fine pianism but the musical conception a work-in-progress.

The second half introduced ‘Lang, the Cultural Ambassador’, as the Curtis-trained native of Shenyang introduced and described in some detail six (only three were threatened in the program) traditional Chinese tunes in modern arrangements. Three would have been enough, but all were delivered with virtuoso charm, some of the arrangements quite complex, and “Spring Dance” in its tango-like rhythms (as Mr. Lang noted) would make a great encore even for non-Chinese artists. Spain preceded China, with beautifully sprung rhythms in Granados’ “Los requiebros” from Goyescas.

Bumble BeePost-China all hell broke loose. Mr. Lang plunged into Liszt’s arrangement of Isolde’s Liebestod, soaking every drop of passion from the music with hair’s-breadth control and drawing tears from the attractive lady seated next to me. Then the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, pounding opening chords almost predicting Bartók, and a manic, hyper-virtuoso race to the conclusion that nearly splintered the Steinway. No fingers have ever flown faster or louder, virtuosity-over-music bringing the audience to its feet. No complaint from this quarter — it’s Liszt.

Winding the audience down with Chopin (E-major etude, op. 10, no. 3) and back with a ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ too fast for the music to make sense – all in fun – Lang Lang left the audience wanting more. A rare enough occurrence these days.


Terry said...

Oh, you make me laugh! And so did Mr. Lang when the piano lid shook.

There was a noticeable difference between pieces on the program - perhaps school studies vs. new stage specialties? He also took care to emphasize some really odd lines and voicing pattern that left me wondering why or who cares?

Your "with this music/for this music" comment was dead-on. But he's not the only guilty performer on that count.

Anonymous said...

Good call, Terry.

Think it sums up that LL remains torn between his interest in the music as such, and in showing off what he can do. Nothing ambiguous about the end of the program where (explicitly!) he chose showing off. But the entertainment level is NOT try this at home.