"CHOPIN Album": 12 Etudes; other works – Lang Lang, piano – Sony Classical

by | Nov 29, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

CHOPIN: 12 Etudes, Op. 25; Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 55, No. 2; Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1; Grande Valse Brillante in E-flat Major, Op. 18; Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise, Op. 22; Nocturne in C-sharp Minor, Op. posth.; Waltz in D-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1; Tristesse (arr. of Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3) – Oh Land – Lang Lang, piano – Sony Classical 88725489602, 75:00 ****:
This may be Lang Lang’s most appealing album to date: his Chopin (rec. 7-11 June 2012) has the notes, a solid grasp of the Chopin style, intelligence and flair. Several times, in the course of my audition of this disc, I found myself likening Lang Lang to Van Cliburn, insofar as the bright optimism of the playing and slick patina resonate with surface brilliance. The “poetry” in this pianist, exhibited in the A-flat Major and E Minor Etudes, and the F Major Nocturne, for instance, plays off plastic melodic tenderness with a fulsome indulgence in Chopin’s passing harmonic intricacies.  The C-sharp Minor Nocturne, known to the popular mind via the film The Pianist, may not penetrate into Chopin’s tragic muse, but the limpid figures, with their intimations of the Second Piano Concerto, receive long-breathed phrases and clean trills and runs. Lang Lang can project both Chopin’s epic temperament and his salon finesse, as in the E-flat Major Nocturne and the D-flat Major  “Minute” Waltz, respectively.
That Lang Lang is not a “profound” musical phenomenon seems common currency. But he can apply a liquid touch, as in his favorite Andante spianato or an icy grandeur, as in the “Ocean” Etude in C Minor, and those extremes certainly impress us with his innate musical prowess. Moments in the Lang Lang’s Andante spianato make me wonder if he has been auditioning the classic rendition by Josef Hofmann for his own Golden Jubilee concerto. In 2010 Lang Lang participated in the 3D film The Flying Machine, from which the pleasant treacle of Tristesse derives.  There occur in the passing notes of the E-flat Nocturne not so much of Ignaz Friedman’s subtlety and poise as erotic hints of Chopin’s quick alliance with Scriabin. At his most percussive, Lang Lang might be mistaken for a controlled Horowitz, sans the lacquer on the hammers: witness the Etudes in A Minor and G-flat Major. A natural sparkle imbues his Grande Valse Brillante, Op. 18; and if it is not Lipatti, its elan does come honestly, enthralled with both Chopin’s architecture and his idiosyncratic rubato.  I find the playing less mannered, less gauche, and generally more aristocratic than my previous encounters with the now thirty-year-old Lang Lang; and nobility of spirit in the course of bravura execution certainly admits Lang Lang into the pantheon of Chopin interpreters.
—Gary Lemco

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