Lang Lang plays Bach’s Goldberg Variations in Miami’s Arsht Center

Arabeske, Op.18
Aria with 30 Variations ‘Goldberg Variations’, BWV988

Lang Lang (piano)

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 10 March, 2022
Venue: Knight Concert Hall, Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami

Lang Lang’s followers turned out in numbers for this recital, clearly more enthused by the artist than by the music. As he has in other venues, Lang Lang prefaced the Goldbergs with Schumann’s Arabeske. In the opening bars, the grace notes were quite distinctly articulated, disrupting the flow of the recurring theme, and Schumann’s numerous ritardandos were consistently exaggerated. The first of the minor-key interludes had a dark character, the second was very much a march, and the coda was played slowly and delicately, the final note held and allowed to die away. This listener would have happily dispensed with this curtain-raiser altogether.

Lang Lang began the Bach auspiciously, with the Aria and the first few Variations striking an excellent balance between sweetly melodic and bouncy rhythmic passages and, as throughout the performance, adding embellishments during repeats, all of which he duly observed. There was much dazzling technique on display, particularly in Variations 5 & 8 early on, and later in Variation 20, in all of which the right-hand was in moto perpetuo mode with the left pronouncing the rhythmic bass line in fine balance with its counterpart. 

But at times Lang Lang took virtuosity too far, as in Variation 6, which seemed to be racing. There was also considerable exaggeration in some slower, melodic Variations, most notably in the ‘Black Pearl’ Variation 25, disrupting continuity. Between these extremes, there was much to enjoy – the well-paced ‘Fughetta’ of Variation 10, the dramatic ‘Ouverture’ of Variation 16, and Variation 28, replete with constant thirty-second notes, among others.

Lang Lang was marvelous but flamboyant in Variation 29, all but bouncing off his seat at the finish. This had the unfortunate effect of inducing many in the audience to rise to their feet, applauding and cheering. When silence was restored, Lang Lang continued with the final Variation, giving the ‘Quodlibet’ a rather idiosyncratic reading that treated it more as a love-song than as a concatenation of popular and folk-tunes recognizable to Bach’s contemporaries. The reprise of the Aria, played without repeats, sang out even more sweetly than at the beginning.

Chopin’s Mazurka in D, Opus 33/2, was the encore.

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