Notes and Editorial Reviews
LANG LANG—LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL
Lang Lang (pn); Lang Guo-ren (erhu)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001121610 (CD: 68:24) Live: New York 11/7/2003
Theme and Variations on the Name Abegg. Träumerai.
Piano Sonata in C,
Fantasy in C,
8 Memories in Watercolor.
Nocturne in D?,
Réminiscences du “Don Juan” de Mozart.
Liebestraum No. 3.
Classical performers are rushed into their Carnegie Hall debuts before age 30 for one of two reasons: they’re young and handsome (or pretty), and so it is hoped they appeal to young people as well as the mommy (or daddy) instinct among older female (or male) concertgoers, or they are transcendent geniuses. Chinese pianist Lang Lang falls into a middle ground occupied by very few. He is young and handsome, and he is also very talented, though not quite transcendent.
A pupil of Gary Graffman, one of my favorite pianists of the 1960s, he has many of the same skills Graffman exhibited: a sparkling technique, continent phrasing, excellent musical balance, and a keen sense of drama. He is Graffman reincarnated, at least the very young Graffman when he showed tremendous promise but was not quite among the piano elite. Lang was much further along the road to greatness at the time of this recital, however, than Evgeny Kissin was at 21; he does not “play” with the music, distort it to his own lights, use it as an excuse for—as he so aptly puts it—“strangeness.” For that, I applaud him, and give credit to Graffman for instilling the sense that the artist is the servant of the music in him. He has a way to go before I will claim him one of my favorite artists, but his feet are certainly on the path and his eyes and mind are pointed in the right direction. He’s proud of his accomplishments and his artistry, but not arrogant. He
that he still has a way to grow. Good for him!
I did not listen to the audio CD in performance order, but started with the Haydn sonata, not because it’s a piece I know extremely well but because, if he showed any failings as a musical artist, Haydn would be the first place such shortcomings would turn up. I’m delighted to report that he plays with sparkle, charm, and a touch of humor. His tempos in this as well as in everything else are regular almost to the point of metronomic strictness, but he is no automaton. He knows the value of light and shade. I followed this with the “Wanderer” Fantasy of Schubert, a piece I do know well. Here, I found him very slightly deficient compared with the youngish Alfred Brendel, who recorded it for Vox when in his early thirties. Brendel had a touch more charm and élan, as well as a more fluid sense of rhythm, but Lang is, again, on the right path. I do sometimes enjoy Schubert with a touch of Viennese charm, but not so much that the underlying structure of the music turns to mush. Lang understands that this piece does not depict a woozy, cotton-headed, overly romantic wanderer, but someone striving against inner storms and torments and succeeds in overcoming them. It may not be the most sensitive performance I’ve heard, but it has the requisite spirit.
Lang’s reading of the Chopin Nocturne in D-flat, on the other hand, was surprisingly limpid and melting, not quite in the manner of Rubinstein’s last (stereo) recording but reminiscent of the kind of Chopin played by Walter Gieseking and Dinu Lipatti. Again, he’s on the right path. (Yet, curiously, I noticed that in my review of Daniel Barenboim’s Beethoven master classes, I did not like his performance of the “Appassionata” Sonata very much, finding it uneven in meter and ill conceived, so perhaps he was wise to avoid a big piece like this for his Carnegie debut.) Schumann’s
on the other hand, were somewhat prosaic, but I think he was trying to reveal the work’s structure rather than interpret it. Turning to Tan Dun’s
Eight Memories in Watercolor,
we hear him play with equal integrity but, I felt, less range of color than the work calls for. On the other hand, the music isn’t exactly of the masterpiece variety; thus it would take a more mature and sensitized artist to bring out its delicate shadings.
Turning to the second half of the concert, released as a DVD, we begin with the bravura
Réminiscences du “Don Juan” de Mozart
by Liszt, and here I found Lang’s playing somewhat lacking bravura. All I could think of, listening to him, was the way György Cziffra played Liszt, or William Kapell’s youthful recording of the
, or Raymond Lewenthal’s remarkable performance of the Liszt-Thalberg-Chopin-everybody else
Nice, clean, continent playing may work for Schumann and Schubert, but not for the demon of the keyboard. On the other hand,
was played with remarkable sensitivity and rubato, his own arrangement of the Chinese erhu piece
with his father was delightful, and
was a lovely wrap-up to the concert.
The bonus interviews on the DVD are of slight interest to serious listeners but I’m sure will delight newbies. Lang does a nice job of describing the music he performs in layman’s terms without being condescending—a difficult tightrope to walk. I’ve just noticed that this CD-DVD combo was first issued in 2004. I don’t notice anywhere on the slipcase that it’s a reissue. So what’s going on? Oh, well. I still give it a thumbs-up, even though it’s not a disc I’ll probably return to very often in the future. Good, clean, natural sound quality.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
This deluxe edition spreads the concert material over a CD and a DVD. The DVD includes:
2. Franz Liszt: Réminiscences du Don Juan de Mozart
3. Schumann: Träumerei (from “Kinderszenen”)
4. Appearance with father (Lang Guo-ren)
5. Horses (after pieces by Huang Hai Hwai, Chen Rao Xing and Shen Li Qun, arranged by Lang Lang and Lang Guo-ren); Lang Guo-ren, erhu
6. Liszt: Liebestraum No. 3
Recorded live in Carnegie Hall, New York on November 7, 2003
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