Piano Showman Lang Lang in Tune With Franz Liszt

Album of the Week

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The spiky-haired Chinese pianist Lang Lang remains controversial among classical purists but among the younger generation of players he's the closest thing going to a rock-like superstar. His flamboyant performing style has earned him frequent comparisons to Franz Liszt, so it's appropriate that he contributes to the composer’s bicentennial with the collection, "Liszt: My Piano Hero."

The album -- Lang’s first full-length studio recording since signing to Sony last year for a reported $3 million -- features Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 as well as a series of solo works ranging from the poetic to the knuckle-busting. An accompanying DVD provides a revealing look at the 29-year-old pianist in the recording studio in Berlin. We learn how Steinways from New York and Hamburg were shipped in for the session. We also see Lang videoing himself in a mirror telling us how difficult the music is (“my fingertips are pretty painful,” he says) and the piano technician praising Lang’s artistry (“of course, we put things in motion for Lang Lang that we wouldn’t for others”).

As for the performances themselves, the Concerto No. 1, performed with the Vienna Philharmonic and Valery Gergiev, proves a fruitful showcase for the pianist’s extroverted gifts; he hammers out the opening volley of notes in a clanging blur while engaging in playful jousting with the orchestra in the scherzo. Elsewhere, Lang polishes off the brilliance of La Campanella and the thunderous energy of the Hungarian Rhapsodies. The Grand Galop chromatique offers a rainbow of keyboard colors while softer pieces like the Liebesträume and six Consolations are remarkably restrained.

As for the album’s title: Lang started playing the piano at age three after being inspired by an episode of the television cartoon "Tom and Jerry" in which the cat, Tom, was playing Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. No doubt Lang Lang himself has done much to inspire a new generation of Chinese children to take up the piano.

Liszt - My Piano Hero
Lang Lang, piano; Vienna Philharmonic; Valery Gergiev, conductor
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Lang Lang plays the Hugarian Rhapsody No. 2:

Vladimir Horowitz plays the same piece:

Which version do you prefer? Leave a comment below.

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Comments [14]

Victor from West Orange, NJ

I would say it is Apples (Horowitz) and Strawberry with cream and a lot of sugar (Lang Lang).

May. 30 2012 03:06 PM
Michael Meltzer

Apples and oranges, Mr. Wickard. It is one thing to recognize a performer as an ambassador to the young, quite another thing to compare him musically to an immortal.
In fact, if Lang Lang wants the stature of a great artist, the first thing he shoud do is throw out the manager and publicist who created this album cover, with a title and photo that can only evoke the response, "Isn't he adorable?" He is 23 , not 12, and as artist his image should reflect maturity, experience and command.
You can't have it both ways.

Oct. 16 2011 06:01 PM
LEON WICKARD

IT IS A COMMENTARY ON THE TIMES BUT WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT LANG LANG HAS AN APPEAL TO THE YOUNGER GENERATION AND WITHOUT THAT GENERATION, THE MUSIC THAT WE LOVE WILL EVENTUALLY DIE. THE MUSIC IS T H E THING !!!!!!!

Oct. 16 2011 04:45 PM
Howard Cinnamon from Long Island

I am offended that you would even try to make this comparison. Howrowitz's performance is a (more or less) faithful representation of the piece Liszt wrote with all the attendant showmanship and bravura Liszt intended. His touch varies from delicate pianissimos that are so soft it's hard to hear them to the loudest fortisisimos conceivable.The best thing you can say about most of Lang Lang's performance, on the other, is that it's incredibly fast and very loud! It is a distortion of the piece that leaves out some of its most impressive moments in favor of banged out fist-fulls of notes that make no harmonic sense. Shame on him.

Oct. 16 2011 08:30 AM
Michael Meltzer

mlg910nyc's description of Horowitz is absolutely accurate. If you weren't there, you just don't know!
I heard Horowitz do it in venues as disparate as Carnegie Hall and the Rutgers University gymnasium, it was no accident or trick of acoustics. I have heard it reproduced only on old original 78's, through the hissing and other problems of the primitive technology. The 33 RPM's never quite picked it up, the quadriphonic tapes came closest but they went obsolete to CD's almost immediately. CD's just don't have it, sorry.

Oct. 15 2011 06:18 PM
JimR from Allentown, PA

If we must have theatrics, I prefer the Tom & Jerry version.

Oct. 15 2011 09:51 AM

Horowitz was the master of color. He was one of the few artists who lived up to his legend. His recordings do capture his spectacular scales, but in the hall, he produced a sound from the piano that sounded as though each note had a halo around it-- no kidding. A combination of control, touch, pedaling, and his own special skill. I've heard a few brilliant pianists -- many great pianists -- but Horowitz was unique and has no heir.

Oct. 15 2011 12:54 AM

Listen to the way Horowitz breathes, makes lilting phrases, has the depth to give musical phrases their full expression, without rushing through them just for the wow effect.
No pianist I ever heard could play pp or ppp like Horowitz. It is not difficult to play ff of fff or sfz; but to play softly in speed with clarity is very difficult. Horowitz had the most gorgeous tone.
I am glad that Lang Lang is bringing a new audience to piano playing, but so far, I have never been moved by his playing.

Oct. 15 2011 12:38 AM
Kreisler Lau from California

Lang Lang captured the mood and the Lisztian style (yes, he is in tune with Franz Liszt!), but this rendition of the Hungarian Rhapsody was not good, relative to his other much better performances. I believed it was not an intended serious concert.

Horowitz's playing was dry and detached, and was totally not Liszt. Sorry Maestro.

Please, Liberaci was never in the same league. He was a charismatic Las Vegas entertainer.

Oct. 14 2011 07:43 PM
Noel

They're not comparable. I agree with the comparison of Lang Lang to Liberace. Lang Lang is a finger athlete, not the same thing as a musician.

Oct. 14 2011 01:11 PM
Michael Meltzer

Recordings are no basis for comparison. Horowitz' live tone created the illusion of coming from inside your own ear, you had to listen to every note he played or leave the room. If he was off on a musical tangent you didn't like, you couldn't tune it out and think about something else.
Lang Lang has an extremely long way to go. He is charismatic, that's a good beginning. When he plays Liszt, he is still at sea. His special effects are often remarkable, but his rubatos are often nothing but awkward pauses.
He does not yet have it together. And when you are that famous, who do you study with? (Cliburn solved that problem by stepping up to conducting and working with Kyril Kondrashin)

Oct. 13 2011 01:39 AM
piotr

Horowitz ???

I'd say he is much closer to Liberace, give or take a few rhinestones.

Oct. 12 2011 08:06 PM
S

Horowitz delivered a more elegant presentation.

Oct. 12 2011 02:58 PM
Christine from washington,state

Lang Lang has a much deeper range in his . I enjoyed this very much. His presentation was very personal.
Vladimir Horowitz however has A less personal presentation.

Thank you very much
Christine

Oct. 12 2011 01:17 PM

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