Lang Lang – Tippett & Rachmaninov

Written by: Colin Anderson

Lang Lang talks about his new recording of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 and Paganini Rhapsody, and about learning Tippett’s Piano Concerto…

That a pianist with the wide appeal of Lang Lang is playing Michael Tippett’s sole Piano Concerto is encouraging. After all, if Lang Lang widens general awareness of Tippett’s music, then that can only be a good thing. “It was a request from the London Symphony Orchestra. I was asked if I was interested in playing this work. So I looked at the score and thought it very interesting. I’d listened to some of Tippett’s symphonies and to his The Midsummer Marriage, so I had some idea, and I spoke to some Tippett fans.”

The day I talked with Lang Lang, he was due to meet up with Sir Colin Davis, who conducts the concert. It would be fair to call Sir Colin a fan of Tippett’s music: “this is the best, Sir Colin Davis; he’s a big supporter of Tippett.” In fact, that evening Sir Colin was destined for a premiere: “I haven’t played this concerto for anybody.” Tippett’s music has a reputation for being difficult to play. How does Lang Lang find the Piano Concerto both technically and musically? “It is hard to play, but not impossible. It is very Impressionistic; somewhere between Scriabin and Messiaen.”

As Tippett revealed, it was Beethoven’s lyrical Piano Concerto No.4 that was his inspiration for his own concerto, so it’s appropriate that Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 is included in the LSO concert; Beethoven, indeed, was one of Tippett’s greatest musical heroes. From a learning standpoint, I wonder how Lang Lang goes about assimilating the solo part in the context of intricate orchestral writing. “You cannot just learn the piano part; it’s a symphonic work. I like this piece, I think I will make something of it. This concerto is a really nice way into the world of Tippett and I’m really curious to see how my first performance of it goes.”

Just issued is Lang Lang’s latest CD – Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 and Paganini Rhapsody. Can Lang Lang sum up the essence of Rachmaninov’s music? “It’s extremely moving, the style is beautiful but very sad; that makes him special, suffering from different cultures, different revolutions. He’s complicated, complex, obviously very exciting too, but the excitement is secondary for me; what is touching my heart is the emotion, and that’s not easy to play.” Does Lang Lang feel any pressure joining the legions of pianists who have already essayed these works for posterity? “First off all I know exactly what I want to achieve; I don’t like to do it for the sake of the loudness or just as a big, flashy, showing-off piece. Rachmaninov is emotional but it has such beautiful deep music. You need to show two sides: technique and emotion, very deep and natural.” Lang Lang’s Rachmaninov CD, conducted by Valery Gergiev, with the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, is on DG 477 5231.

I ask Lang Lang about the way he is publicised. For example, the cover for his new Rachmaninov recording, while not unattractive, is also posed and, maybe too strong a word, contrived. “The concerto is a thinking piece; you can’t put a happy face there.” And his reaction generally to press coverage, which suggests a stardom beyond what might be considered appropriate to a serious artist? “I don’t want to be famous but I enjoy it because a lot of young people come to concerts, a lot of young people who never listen to classical music. They see the coverage and come to concerts. That’s an important thing if you can do that.”

  • Concert at Barbican Hall, London, on 10 March
  • Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3
  • LSO
  • Barbican
  • Universal
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 2 March 2005 and is reproduced here with permission

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