Lang Lang Live in Vienna = Program of BEETHOVEN, CHOPIN, ALBENIZ & PROKOFIEV – Sony Classical (2)

by | Nov 1, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Lang Lang Live in Vienna = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2, No. 3; Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata”; ALBENIZ: Iberia, Book I; PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; CHOPIN: Etude in A-flat Major, Op. 25, No. 1; Polonaise No. 6 in A-flat Major, Op. 53 “Heroic”; Grande Valse brillante No. 2 in A-flat Major, Op 34, No. 1 – Lang Lang, piano

Sony Classical 88697719012, (2 CDs) 55:23; 59:06 ***:

Recorded at the Musikverein Wien, Grosser Saal, Austria, February 27-March 1, 2010, the keyboard sensation Lang Lang (b. 1982) makes his Sony debut with four composers he finds significant to the evolution of the piano repertory. Two sides of this “global” performer hence emerge: certainly the gifted sensitive musician whose capacity for the singing line, fiery acceleration, and the rounded sonority; but no less the willful youth who must play “differently” in order to establish his musical persona.

The Beethoven C Major Sonata, a relatively early work that acknowledges its debts to Haydn, comes across most favorably, with Lang Lang fluidly realizing Beethoven’s long lines and embellishments, neither fussy or mannered. The Adagio receives its full due of empfindsamkeit, that nod to the “emotional” school of C.P.E. Bach with its lyrical outpouring of feeling. The Beethoven capacity for volcanic eruptions makes its impact. Wit and blithe energy mark the last two movements, again evincing flair and swift dynamic transitions, sure elements of Lang Lang’s signature. 

The Appassionata, which Lang Lang recognizes as “a work central to every pianist’s repertoire,” reveals a tendency to cloying and exaggerated phrasing, habits that other commentators have deemed either boring or irritating, given their respective temperaments and degrees of acid in their diction. Lang Lang’s pearly tone notwithstanding, the long-drawn marcatos, ritards, and metric adjustments will either delight listeners as individualistic or “romantic,” or infuriate purists. At times, the music’s line becomes lost in intricate details, effects like trills or glittering runs, that appear as ends in themselves. The Andante’s theme and variations proceed with thoughtful intelligence and nicety of color. I often intuit that he prefers to play Beethoven in the manner of Chopin, as a study in percussion trying to become string legato. The last movement provides Lang Lang with the bravura potential he craves, in which fleet fingers and bold strokes can wow an already convinced audience that his powers refresh the familiar repertory he embraces with obvious zeal.

Book I of the Albeniz Iberia–Evocation, El Puerto, and Fete-Dieu a Seville–allows us to savor Lang Lang in repose as well as in the flamboyant colors that fuse Spanish national elements with French impressionism. A deliberate “Moorish” flavor seeps into the sultry Evocation, which collectors recall that William Kapell rendered so tenderly. El Puerto suavely demonstrates Lang Lang’s color and rhythmic thrusts, his quick accommodations of glassy color, accents, and points of national dance character. The Festival at Seville evokes percussive and scintillating panoplies of layered colors, intense, and eminently orchestral in sonority.

The Prokofiev Seventh Sonata proves the most exhilarating and naturally kinetic of Lang Lang’s contributions, the movements alternately disturbed, searching, and audacious. Clearly influenced by the likes of Richter, Lang Lang drives the figures hard, the patina equally pungent. So the ensuing encore, Chopin “Aeolian Harp” etude in A-flat, appears as a direct foil to the hammers in his palette, a soft undulant rendition that woos the rapt audience with its sonorous piety.  Rabid applause summons the Polonaise in A-flat, with its concomitant visions of Cornel Wilde or movie star Lang Lang. Flamboyant and kaleidoscopically flippant, the splashy piece–and Lang Lang’s strong line– guarantee adoration from the Vienna admirers. Finally, after thunderbolts of rapture and whoops from the Viennese, the A-flat Major Waltz–happily lilted and debonair–a salon piece here made a panoramic moment of international festivity whose charm has not been sacrificed to glamour.

— Gary Lemco

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