Lang Lang: Live in Vienna

Saturday, August 28, 2010

It’s impossible to remain indifferent to the Chinese piano phenom Lang Lang.

To his millions of admirers, he is just what's badly needed to entice a younger generation to an art form with a rapidly aging audience. But talk to a music professor or critic and chances are he or she will knock Lang's knack for showmanship and display at the expense of nuance and depth. Live in Vienna, the subject of this week's Full Rotation, may do little to quell the detractors, but it also shows a performer who takes command of the music and puts his own indelible stamp on it.

The first release in a $3 million recording contract with Sony, in its repertoire, packaging and overall concept, Live in Vienna suggests an attempt to establish his serious bona fides. The CD booklet is chalked full of images of Vienna’s prestigious Musikverinsaal, its gilded architecture set against pictures of Lang mopping his brow with a towel and receiving flowers from adoring fans. Liner notes by Gramophone magazine editor James Jolly explain how the pianist spent weeks honing a program devoted to four diverse composers who played a significant role in the history of the piano repertoire.

Indeed, largely avoided are the flashier barnburners that sometimes figure into Lang’s concert programs in favor of more substantial pieces. The first disc contains two of Beethoven's sonatas, the early Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2, and the much more famous Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57, the "Appasionata." Still, this isn't a newly sober Lang Lang. He underlines gestures emphatically, and occasionally lets cascades of notes rip with a startling intensity.

The second CD features Albeniz's Iberia, Book I, as well as Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-Flat Major, Op. 83. The pianist applies a sparkling range of colors to the Albeniz while the Prokofiev sonata, sometimes called the "Stalingrad," is suitably spiky and dark, even as he pushes and pulls at the tempos, allowing the musical line to occasionally dissolve. For encores, Lang turns to a trio of Chopin works that complement his strengths and showcase his undeniable virtuosity.

Whatever one makes of the star-making push behind Lang Lang, his charisma is undeniable, and he's responsible for the millions of young Chinese who are taking up the piano today. He is also just the latest in a long line of bravura pianists known for their flamboyance. Here are four others.

Full Rotation can be heard all this week on WQXR

Live in Vienna
Lang Lang, piano
Sony Classical

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Comments [7]

Richard from Bloomfield, NJ

Quite surprised by all the fuss! I thought it was the musician's job to interpret the music. Even a performance that you dislike causes you to think about the work and keeps it fresh.
As for his movements on the bench, is he so different than the great Glenn Gould (whose interpretations were also unique) or Leonard Bernstein, who couldn't stand still on the podium?

Sep. 03 2010 10:28 AM
D. Jeannot from Brooklyn, NY

He's growing and maturing. I believe he can develop into a true and full artist. I heard inkling's of that this morning in the Beethoven Sonata, which I admit I enjoyed to a great degree. His maturing will take time, but I believe it will happen. As Mr. Spurgeon pointed out, he's only 28. A baby as far as I'm concerned. :)

Sep. 03 2010 09:58 AM
ellen finch

Unfortunately, I believe him to be more of a 'circus act' than a true artist.

Sep. 02 2010 10:43 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

Rachmaninoff, Paderewski, Vladimir Horowitz, Franz Liszt, Frederic Chopin, Sarasate, Josef Hofmann, and Simon Barere and, a bow to the non-classical, the flambuoyantly-costumed Liberace, ALL demonstrated that talent with a flourish a la Cyrano de Bergerac, adds flavor to the confection that is music. Go for it, Lang Lang !! Of course, there are style considerations and the composer's supposed intentions that should prevail if indeed we KNOW from the composer what he seeks to convey. The true masterpieces survive even the entreprenuristic aspect of uniqueness for its, THEIR, own sake.

Aug. 31 2010 07:28 PM
Michael Meltzer

I agree entirely with Mr. Chan, and might add that in the long run, elegance of style will count for more with audiences than appearing to be passing a kidney stone on the piano bench.

Aug. 31 2010 05:26 PM
John Chan from CHINA

Both Lang Lang and Yundi LI are very excellent young Chinese pianists...although I personally believe that Yundi LI is a more specialist in Chopin...

Thank you

John Chan

Aug. 31 2010 01:29 PM
Arden Anderson-Broecking from CT

(I confess to being a published music critic.)
I have never reviewed him, but frankly, I find his playing insensitive and although technically skilled, it seems to be all loud and fast, and the eccentricities I've seen on videos of him are awfully distracting.
You just played a recording of his interpretation of the "Appasionata," and, though certainly passionate, hhe sounded as though he was mad at Beethoven. I know he's on vogue, and he'ssomething of a "sacred cow" but if if you compare this recording with those of others,it doesn't come across well at all. Okay, end of rant. I enjoy you listening to you so much, and I am also a singer, and enjoy your perceptive comments.

Aug. 30 2010 02:08 PM

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