Haydn
Sonata in E major (Hoboken No.31)
Rachmaninov
Sonata No.2 in B flat minor (revised version, 1931)
Brahms
Six Pieces, Op.118
Tchaikovsky
Dumka, Op.59
Nocturne in C sharp, Op.19/4
Balakirev
Islamey
Lang Lang (piano)
CD No: TELARC CD-80524
Duration:
Reviewed: August 2001
Lang Lang had just turned eighteen when he recorded this recital in August 2000 at Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood. Two consecutive dates are given, so either the best of two programmes is compiled here, or there were two opportunities the record the identical recital. The occasional cough aside, the audience is very well behaved; the present and lucid recording, which includes applause, is first class.
As a calling card this CD is an impressive debut. Chinese-born Lang Lang began his studies in his homeland aged three; he currently studies with Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. As is the stuff of ’lucky breaks’, Lang Lang has already stepped in at short notice to replace Richard Goode and Andre Watts.
It’s encouraging that Lang Lang includes a Haydn sonata; also that he programmes ’late’ Brahms, the reclusive Op.118 set. Such choices indicate that Lang Lang is not a pianist out to barnstorm his way to success. This is to his credit – the Haydn is poised and sympathetic, Lang Lang’s restraint speaks of his subtlety. Yet, he overdoes the drawing-room intimacy; Haydn’s wit and imagination need to be more pointed, although Lang Lang’s spirited finale is admirable in revealing its toccata bearing.
Lang Lang has a splendid technique that serves the music. Indeed, everything he does is musical - shapely, responsive phrases abound. He also brings equilibrium to what he plays, which is something of a problem. Rachmaninov needs more tingling nerve-ends to be himself; the psyche of the music is rather more complex than Lang Lang realises or is able to communicate. He has the notes and structure finely grasped, but there’s also a lack of temperament. One is admiring but not engaged, and when he does ’take wing’, such as at 4’46” in the first movement (track 4), the invocation of bells should be more declamatory and soulful.
Similarly, Lang Lang brings discrimination and refinement to Brahms; one could say this is ’classical’ Brahms as played here, but a lack of romantic ’smoulder’ is conspicuously absent. I don’t want to labour these points. Play any one track and a huge talent is evident. Over the longish span of the Rachmaninov, or the Brahms taken as a group, one is aware of limitations of personality; put another away, Lang Lang has yet to find that indefinable something that makes these composers the great ones they are.
Yet, haunting me is Lang Lang’s quiet inwardness, his sensitive touch, his poetic phrasing, his total lack of pretence, but he needs to develop ’factor X’. Islamey is confident, though over-control restricts bravura. It could be that Lang Lang was conscious of the microphones.
Lang Lang seems to have more difficult-to-acquire credentials already in place – musicianship, honesty, A1 technique, composure and sensitivity. To add to his natural ability to charm and integrate, Lang Lang now needs to probe his chosen composers more and cut loose.

 

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