This packed-to-overflowing alternative to the single-platter DualDisc format shows the right way to go about providing both an audio and a video program of basically the same thing. The young Chinese pianist is one of the shining successes in classical music today. All of his previous DGG albums have won allocades and his concert performances are usually sold out. In 2005-06 he returned to his homeland for an eight-city concert tour and to record this album. The documentary on the DVD follows Lang Lang giving master classes, meeting with former teachers at the Shanghai Music Conservatory, signing autographs, dining with his family (his parents seem to overstress how much they suffered and gave up to make his career possible), and talking about China and his place in his country’s musical life.
But the excellent documentary is only part of the DVD video’s content. The entire musical program of the CD is heard and seen, except for a change of performers on the Yellow River Piano Concerto. The audio-only version features the China Philharmonic Orchestra, a good-sounding piano and exemplary sonics. The performance is about what one would expect from this odd four-movement 20-minute concerto which was assembled by four arrangers from a Chinese song titled The Great Song of the Yellow River. The concluding video version, however, is from Chinese TV and a spectacular production in 2005 that would have surely outdone Gottschalk’s piano extravaganzas: Lang Lang and conductor Long Yu are the same, but the pianist is resplendent in a white tail suit and playing a Chinese Pearl River grand piano, surrounded by the largest orchestra ever seen (it’s actually four different orchestras according to the credits) – 16 French horns, for example – plus 100 girls simultaneously playing 100 grand pianos, in formation with 50 on each side of the orchestra. The venue is a huge amphitheater at the world’s largest golf course. The piano sounds extremely tinny, the sound in general is not the best, and the image is much lower quality than the rest of the DVD and only 4:3 instead of 16:9. The soundtrack offers a sort of Chinese surround sound encoded as Dolby 5.1; it’s not very good. But would you believe those 100 pianos!
Lang Lang’s program of the short pieces is quite different and is the real attraction of this album. In one of his folksy introductions he tells of how he had thought about doing such a recital for some time as an alternative to the European music he played in concerts. He wanted to find a way to proudly share some of his country’s musical culture with his audiences around the world. This album is the result. He points out that he finds a close connection between the French Impressionist composers and some of the Chinese folk and composed pieces which create subtle, diaphanous moods around descriptive elements such as flowers, scents, night, the moon, and so on.
Lang Lang’s playing of these pieces shows the same infinite attention to subtle phrasing and dynamics that he uses in performing similar miniatures by Schumann or Liszt. One is able to appreciate the lovely melodies of these often simply-appearing tunes. He created most of the arrangements himself. The piano sound is magnificent. The last three pieces are duos with Lang Lang involving the pipa, an ethnic oboe of sorts, and finally the guzheng Chinese zither. One comes away from the concert with a warm feeling for the enthusiasm and down-to-earth approach of Lang Lang as well as his remarkable performances.
TrackList: Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake, The Cowherd’s Flute, Dialogue in Song, Dance of Spring, Straw Hat Dance, Spring Wind, Happy Times, Spring Flowers in the Moonlit Night on the River, Dance from Quici, A Night on the Lake Beneath the Maple Bridge.
– John Sunier