BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos 1 & 4 – Lang Lang, piano/ Orchestre de Paris conducted by Christoph Eschenbach – DGG

by | May 23, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos 1 & 4 – Lang Lang, piano/ Orchestre de Paris conducted by Christoph Eschenbach – DGG B0008725-02, 75 mins., ****(*):

Symbolized by Lang Lang’s heroic pose on the CD cover, which finds the artist as an extremely fashionable, mock French revolutionary clad gloriously if incongruously in a scarf drenched in the colors of China, a long zippered coat and a pair of plaid golfing trousers, these two performances explode with a creative force and musical integrity that frequently, especially in the first movements, threaten to burst into flames.

Numbers One and Four are not safe choices with which to throw one’s hat into the ring of Beethoven concertos, as Eschenbach himself found out decades ago when his recording of the First Concerto, also on DGG, partnered by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan and taking up two sides of a vinyl LP, turned out to be, with the exception of the first movement cadenza, a deeply compromised, bland failure. The stern and stormy Third or the flamboyant Fifth (the so-called “Emperor”) are the more customary ways to go.

However, in an amazing display of mind-bending rethinking, Lang has come up with virtually a new interpretive solution to each bar. Softening a lead-in to a theme here, singling out a single note amidst a multitude there, delivering fiery fury when it is least expected, and then reining in the horses when it is certain they are to be unleashed, these performances are sometimes like hearing a gorgeous patchwork quilt of musical phrases, sentences and paragraphs culminating in performances of cadenzas (Beethoven’s, in all cases) that seem to be, as they should, spontaneously improvised on the spot. And in every case, despite the chutes and ladders over which Lang slides down and climbs up, there is nothing artificial about the overall musical effect. How he does it is beyond explanation, except that he must believe in and love the music with a passion he feels to be profoundly requited. Of course, it is the love-driven imagination of a young man that is at work here, and not that of a seasoned veteran whose concerns are of a more spiritual or temporal nature; but even in those senses, Lang has positioned himself for future growth as if to say these are not his last words on the subject.

In the pit, Eschenbach and the French orchestra provide partnering which is rich in beautiful color, bursting with fresh energy and alert to wherever it is that Lang is going at any particular moment. Recorded in the Salle Pleyel, the sound is powerful and atmospheric with a relaxed sense of space. Pablo Galonce’s admiring program notes will entertain and inform groupies.   

– Laurence Vittes

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