LSO/Tan Dun Harding Lang Lang – Tan Dun & Mahler

Tan Dun
Internet Symphony (Eroica) [European concert premiere]
Piano Concerto (The Fire) [UK premiere]
Symphony No.1

Lang Lang (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Tan Dun
Daniel Harding

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 21 April, 2009
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Tan DunOn 15 April this year the YouTube Symphony Orchestra – a collection of musicians from 30 countries – gave the first performance of Tan Dun’s four-minute Internet Symphony, subtitled ‘Eroica’, in Carnegie Hall. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted. This performance, by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tan Dun, and including the two UK YouTube orchestra members from the UK, marked its first performance in Europe.

Its brevity and musical content exemplify everything about aspects of modern life that are unappealing. The short length is typical of the assumption that people cannot concentrate for any decent length of time, excepting concert-goers, of course! The Internet presents us with ‘bite-size’ chunks that are digested easily, and so too this work. Lots of repeating figurations lend it a catchy air but it is all very superficial. The third movement Allegro reminded of Rossini’s overture to his last opera “William Tell”, symptomatic of its lack of originality.

Subtitling it ‘Eroica’, clearly summoning Beethoven’s and, therefore, inviting comparison with it – and using steel-drums that Tan Dun found produced notes “invoking the ‘Eroica’”. Nevertheless, it is arrogance of the highest order. There is only one ‘Eroica’. It revolutionised the form of the symphony, more-or-less finished off the classical era and heralded musical Romanticism. Tan Dun’s effort stands nowhere in comparison to it.

Lang Lang. Photograph: Felix BroedeAlso from Tan Dun was his Piano Concerto, a piece that does not know when to finish. Lang Lang – the dedicatee – gave a creditable performance, clearly enjoying the oriental ideas that permeate the work. The many ostinato phrases became irritating in their simplicity; ideas seemingly scarce. The finale ranged from desperation to jubilation, incorporating plenty more sounds from the Far East. The coda went on too long.

Daniel Harding took up the conducting reins for a performance of Mahler’s First Symphony that was high on orchestral detail but without a sense of a journey. The opening burgeoning of nature was wonderfully evoked, the strings restrained and cuckoo-calls and (off-stage) trumpets signalling what was to be an extremely well-played performance. The stroll in to the theme from the second song of Mahler’s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” was lilting in fantasy before the return to darker ideas … these and many other contrasts were heightened throughout but with little linkage.

The music felt stale and was plain tired in places; the mock-funeral march being indecisive, fragmented and nervous. The preceding movement’s Ländler section was too polished and micro-managed. The finale’s peroration had already been heard half-way through the movement and so was unable to culminate the journey. Despite secure playing, the heart of this youthful, exultant symphony was not found.

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