Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.19
Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93
Lang Lang (piano)
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 25 October, 2011
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
The posters with “sold out” plastered over them for this concert said it all. In the Isaac Stern Auditorium the buzz was great: snippets of conversations included, “I wasn’t going to come, but then I heard that Lang Lang was playing” – confirming that this was a ‘celebrity’ concert in the worst (is there any other?) sense. Lang Lang proved himself to be exactly that: an entertainer, his adoring public – some offering flowers to the Ronald O. Perelman Stage where he accepted them – lapping up what he offered: but he had absolutely no affinity with the music or the orchestra. The Beethoven had begun in promising fashion: a brisk tempo (though the reverberant hall robbed the music of its crispness) but failed to keep Lang Lang on track, his eccentricities deviated wildly and the concerto lost all sense of line, though he did produce a honed and pleasurable tone from his instrument. He made misplaced attempts at humour in the cadenza, and his introduction to the central Adagio lacked any sense of solemnity. Lang Lang’s encore, Liszt’s ‘La Campanella’ (Paganini Etudes), was played as a party piece.
A compelling and convincing performance of Shostakovich’s life-affirming Tenth Symphony obliterated memories of the Beethoven. With Stalin dead only a few months by the time Shostakovich came to write and have this work performed, he freed many pent-up ideas, Charles Dutoit communicating this through the Philadelphians, brooding lines contrasted with urgent outpourings, the scherzo’s ironic portrayal of Stalin particularly effective with malicious and defiant playing. Dutoit’s clear approach built the work’s massive architecture such that its journey – artist-of-the-people to artist-for-oneself – was clear: the slow-burn opening of the first movement conjured the angry caged animal desperate to escape, and it assaulted the senses, quite rightly. In the moderately paced third movement, Dutoit took the view that there really is no time to rest; its curious march sounding ideally ridiculous here, and made abrupt at the close. The finale opened with certainty, in memoriam, and continued to menace, the coda gloriously biting and concluded in breathless fashion, a defiant stand for humanity.
The concert had began with a polished and lovely performance of Fauré’s Pavane, contemplative moments eschewed for broad sweeps (the Philadelphians’ strings sounding gorgeous, and the flautists a dream). Quite aside from the Beethoven was the audience’s behaviour during most of the concert, some of the worst it has been my displeasure to endure. A near-constant rustle of paper, late-comers taking an age to find their seats (leaving Dutoit standing on the podium counting to about seventy before he could begin the Shostakovich) and flash photography!