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.
Its 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 Langs restraint speaks of his subtlety. Yet, he overdoes the drawing-room intimacy; Haydns wit and imagination need to be more pointed, although Lang Langs 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 theres also a lack of temperament. One is admiring but not engaged, and when he does take wing, such as at 446 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 dont 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 Langs 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.
- Lang Lang made his Proms debut on 22 August, playing Rachmaninovs Third Piano Concerto, which Telarc is recording for future release.Click here to read Ying Changs Review of the concert