Lang Lang in Paris = CHOPIN: Scherzo No. 1 in b minor, Op. 20; Scherzo No. 2 in b-flat minor, Op. 31; Scherzo No. 3 in c-sharp Minor, Op. 39; Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, Op. 54; TCHAIKOVSKY: The Months, Op. 37a – Lang Lang, piano – Sony Classical 88875117582, (2 CDs) (10/9/15) 42:00, 44:00 ****:
Recorded May 31 and June 4, 2015 at the Salle Liebermann at the Opera Bastille in Paris, this recital captures “pop” icon Lang Lang in music that he frequently champions, that of Chopin and Tchaikovsky. Typical of the Lang Lang style, a degree of hectic histrionics accompanies his flights into the Four Scherzi, 1831-1843. We might recall Artur Rubinstein’s comment when composer Camille Saint-Saens played the Third Scherzo for him from memory: “it was note-perfect but too fast.” I wonder if Lang Lang too often conflates the Chopin style with that of Liszt. Despite the outer sections’ speed and turbulence, the b minor enjoys a plaintive, articulate and sensitive reading of the noel that constitutes its middle section. Because of the speed and “hurtled” nature of Lang Lang’s accents, the outer sections may seem glib or contrived, but no more so than the bravura renditions we know from Van Cliburn.
The b-flat minor, perhaps the most epic of these compositions, moves in equally fleet and brilliant figures, with a natural lift to the melodic line that Lang Lang acolytes will find sensitively persuasive. I find his landings peremptory, where pianists like Moravec and Michelangeli permit the sonic image more decay. The innate, Byronic sturm und drang elements appear subsumed to the virtuosic aspect by way of the shifts of register and timbre. For clarity of articulation, however, Lang Lang’s technique remains strong and eminently confident. The singing line Lang Lang supports, supple and elastic, confirms his musicianship, though not always to my taste. The most “wintry” of the Scherzos, the c-sharp minor, taxes the pianist’s staccato and wrist articulation throughout. The percussive aspects of the piece rally to Lang Lang’s technique, while the glistening arpeggios and scales ring in bravura fashion. The pacing, again, may be worrisome to those who seek more depth than plastic fluidity. The ever-sunny E Major emerges from Lang Lang with a dance-like fervor, playful and opulently acrobatic. His expansive reading proves the most successful rendition of the set, his realization of the nocturnal moment quite lustrous, and deeply felt. This may be the most sincere music-making Lang Lang has given me.
The 1875 suite by Tchaikovsky, The Seasons (or Months), finds in Lang Lang an affectionate performer, though not always restrained by their essentially salon ambitions. The February “Shrovetide Fair” provokes the showman in Lang Lang, but he subdues June’s tender Barcarolle with loving care. April basks in disarming simplicity, while the November Troika gains a sympathy some us recall from an inscription by the equally long-fingered Rachmaninov. With December’s evocation of Christmas sympathies, I found myself waving a tearful goodbye to a quite enchanting survey of these harmonically rich and melodically captivating pieces.