CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21; Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11 – Lang Lang, piano/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta – DGG

by | Jan 2, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21; Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11 – Lang Lang, piano/Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Zubin Mehta – DGG B0011654-02, 73:04  [Distrib. by Univeral] ****:

Recorded at the Vienna Musikverein Grosse Saal, 21 June 2008, the two Chopin concertos with pianist Lang Lang (b. 1982) provide another showcase for the rising superstar of classical keyboard. In his favor, I must admit that Lang Lang combines a sensational technique with a sense of Chopin’s iconoclastic, classical style, demanding absolute security of rhythm in the left hand while the right indulges in fluctuations of tempo rubato.  Explosive accents, huge gestures, and sensitive application of Chopin’s pregnant silences mark the F Minor Concerto, here played in aggressive, flamboyantly extroverted manner well familiar to those who know Argerich and Zimerman in these works. The motion of the Maestoso is so fluid, so slick, however, one may miss any true personality in the music. The Larghetto seems better served in the respect of Lang Lang instilling a defined, poetic character to the cantilena.

Lang Lang’s own model in these concertos is Artur Rubinstein; and the young pianist tries hard to evoke the same resonance and fluid transition of musical periods as that great, Polish artist. Is it the engineers who apply the fortissimo levels to the big cadences, upping the emotional ante in what might have been more intimate applications of sound?  The last movement mazurka proceeds fleetly and with a decided gusto, and the Vienna Philharmonic woodwinds and horns make for diaphanous open-air serenades. The last period, of course, has those hunting horn motifs that suggest some happy resolution to the music’s love affair. The piano against col legno or staccato strings becomes a crisp, Rossini etude; Lang Lang’s trill, too, gains cleaner articulation in the Allegro vivace than it projected in the two prior movements.

The E Minor allows Lang Lang a vaster canvas; and Mehta, too, takes the long orchestral introduction, making this version competitive with my personal favorites, the epic Gilels/Ormandy and Lipatti/Ackermann inscriptions of over a generation ago. Here, Lang Lang projects a clarion sensibility, an evocation of bells and music-box sonorities. Still, in spite of the brilliance of both the piano and the recording venue, a degree of intimacy insinuates itself into the rendition, that noble simplicity, at once folk-like and innately aristocratic, of which Chopin reigns as a past master. Excellent work from the VPO French horns, febrile and resonant, especially as Mehta whips through the tuttis. A lovingly molded transition to the development section scales down the music to the salon, then back to the concert hall acrobatics, where this collaboration really shines, and Rubinstein himself would nod his approval.  Limpid, graceful arches mark the Romance movement, a superb balance of Bellini’s bel canto and Hummel’s declamatory styles, eminently sympathetic. The last movement, the Rondo-Krakowiak, has both Lang Lang and Mehta full throttle, playing to the house and to the devoted cult for this exciting pianist for whom any inscription simply adds to the legend.

–Gary Lemco


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