LANG LANG LIVE IN VIENNA • Lang Lang (pn) • SONY 88697719012 (2 CDs: 114:29) Live: ViennaRead more 2/27–3/1/2010
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas: No. 3 in C, op. 2/3; No. 23 in f, op. 57, “Appassionata.” ALBÉNIZ Iberia, Book 1. PROKOFIEV Piano Sonata No. 7. CHOPIN Etude in A?, op. 25/1. Polonaise in A?, op. 53. Waltz in A?, op. 34/1
This release inaugurates Lang Lang’s association with Sony, and it gets superstar treatment, with releases on CD, DVD, Blu-ray (complete with a 3-D bonus), and even vinyl. So far, I’ve only had access to the audio CDs. This may in fact be a good thing, since it allows concentration on the purely musical elements, without the distractions of Lang Lang’s hyperactive stage manner. The verdict? Simply put, those musical elements are generally very impressive.
Even before listening, we might well have expected the bold dynamic contrasts in the first movement of the “Appassionata,” the relentless clarity of the last movement of the Prokofiev, the punchy rhythms of Albéniz’ El Puerto, and the transparency of textures in the tart reading of Fête-Dieu à Séville that follows. After all, even Lang Lang’s detractors (and at times, I’ve reluctantly been one of them myself) recognize his technical prowess and his ability to sharpen musical contours by heightening details of color and articulation. But except for a few moments of apparent distraction (for all its perfumed beauty, his deliberate reading of Albéniz’ Évocation sometimes loses direction), the inattention that sometimes mars his earlier playing is absent. And until the extremely slushy reading of the Chopin etude that serves as the first of three consecutive encores in A?-Major, there is little trace of the self-indulgence that infected so much of his Carnegie Hall recital seven years back (see my reviews in Fanfare 28:1 and 28:4 and Lynn René Bayley’s in 32:2).
More important, there’s also an increased respect for his audience here—a patience, subtlety, and restraint that haven’t always been present in his playing and that bespeak a growing willingness to give us some credit for careful listening. Thus, for instance, he gives us a daringly slow and reflective performance of the Adagio in Beethoven’s op. 2/3, one that never drags and never sinks into sentimentality; and it’s followed by a perky reading of the Scherzo that brings out the liveliness without any attempt to elbow us along. The middle movement of the “Appassionata,” exquisitely voiced (listen to the second variation in particular), is similarly thoughtful; and it would be a cold listener indeed who could resist the heartfelt ruminations that open the second movement of the Prokofiev.
Are these benchmark performances in the manner of Hamelin’s Albéniz or Richter’s Prokofiev? Will his Beethoven stand up, in the long run, to Schnabel’s or Richter’s? Does Lang Lang offer the revelatory power of Michelangeli (in op. 3/2) or Ernst Levy (in the “Appassionata”)? Probably not—but even to ask such questions is to suggest that this release offers music-making of an extremely high level. And while the two-channel sound hardly evokes the particular acoustic environment of the Vienna Muisikverienssaal (presumably the Blu-ray will have more character), it’s clear and detailed. In sum, unless your CD collection is truly Spartan, you should find this a welcome addition.
Exciting Music Making!May 2, 2015By bess holloway (Boulder, CO)See All My Reviews"Everyone who collects music recordings should have at least one by Lang Lang. This set was my first acquired example of his playing. I've listened many, many times and continue to find revelations."Report Abuse