Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11
Lang Lang (piano)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 21 June 2008 in the Musikverien, Vienna
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: November 2008
CD No: DG 477 7449
Duration: 73 minutes
That Lang Lang is a prodigiously gifted talent is unarguable. Watching him can be a problem though – as André Previn identified in a recent (October 2008) interview. Countering this is a comment from Zubin Mehta in the booklet for the present release. “I once heard him (Lang Lang) practising all by himself in Los Angeles: he didn’t know I was watching, but he played exactly the same way as he does in public, with the same movements and gestures. Those things are not for the stage – it’s just the way music comes out of him. It’s very physical.” That Mehta comments thus suggests that watching Lang Lang does raise doubts in some quarters; the pianist has indeed brought himself into disrepute with his antics and Previn’s comments certainly hit the spot for quite a few people.
But sound-only is different. There is much to impress in Lang Lang’s assumption of the solo parts of these works (played in order of composition rather than publication). He has, of course, all the technical ability to play with fantastic bravura when needed; and he doesn’t lack sensitivity either, as both slow movements reveal. He is also scrupulous in his clarity and laudably unexaggerated; there are ‘passing notes’ heard here that other pianists tend to gloss over.
Although Lang Lang may not always be an idiomatic Chopin-player in terms of rhythm and even if he does knock on the door of schmalz at times (without actually entering through it), there is much that is beguiling about his renditions, a willingness to cut loose (because he can) and a sweet sensitivity to lyrical entreaties that is often hushed and deeply loved. Elsewhere, one notes a personal approach to ‘small’ notes and filigree details (which sound fresh-minted) and a relish that is infectious. The odd contrivance aside, these performances are some of the finest that Lang Lang has yet given us.
If Mehta was being avuncular in his ‘defence’ of Lang Lang, he almost upstages him in the performances with quite wonderful accompaniments drawing a detailed and sound-conscious response from the Vienna Philharmonic. The conductor is not prepared to just play the notes, he does something with them, and often to illuminating effect. Thankfully the recording preserves this partnership with full, vivid – and well-balanced – reproduction.