The rubric for this disc seems to be Scenes from Childhood, well justifying the Schumann Op. 15, the Mozart C Major Sonata, and the Liszt Rhapsody (given as a bonus CD) which harkens back to Lang Lang’s cartoon-watching days. Lang Lang claims it was Mozart’s C Major Sonata which retrieved a waning enthusiasm for playing the piano, after a particularly bad experience with one teacher. As performed by Lang Lang, the piece is all pearly flitter and tender, intimate melancholy, marked by periodic intrusions of harmonic audacity. The open sound Lang Lang projects keeps Mozart’s writing at all times exposed, and the slow tempos require a consistently taut line. The Alberti bass effects and running passages sparkle with ingenuous, elastic innocence in the last movement, an Allegretto with hints of martial resolve. Doubtless, a Mozart conductor will want Lang Lang for a recorded series of the concertos.
If Mozart brings out Lang Lang’s demure classicism, Chopin unleashes another, polar trait: in the longest version (over 38 minutes) of the B Minor Sonata in my experience, we hear some exquisite playing and canny pedal effects that will be hailed as either artful poetry or mere self-indulgence, or some alloy of both. The issue, obviously, becomes one of Chopin’s repeats, given an eight-minute exposition in the opening Allegro maestoso, adding something of Schubert’s “heavenly length” to Chopin’s tumultuous gestures. Arend Prohmann’s piano engineering is top-flight, however, and the surface sound is R-rated. Chopin’s polyphony, too, carries an ecstatic punch, the melody rising in delicate tracery over a sea of troubles. Chopin’s Largo provides ample opportunity to showcase Lang Lang’s sustained legato; the second and last movements display brilliant momentum and colors, although purists will find his approach overripe. Schumann’s evocations of childhood can be as demure as they can be passionate, as in the chastity of Fuerchtenmachen. The Knight of the Hobby-Horse threatens to sail over the roof. The gentle lullaby at Kind im Einschlummern must be the same that rocked Lang Lang’s infancy. A rich sense of Schumann’s pulsation, his breathing spaces, marks this version of Childhood Scenes, easily competitive artistically with the classic likes of Cortot, Foldes, Gieseking, and Horowitz himself.
Taking his cue from the 25 February 1953 Carnegie Hall recital by Horowitz, Lang Lang makes a virtue of his own excess, pulling out all the rhythmic and agogic stops for Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody. Liszt referred to his set of 19 Rhapsodies as “a kaleidoscope of the human soul in all its diverse emotions,” so we can savor the passing parade of pomp, ego, and polar ecstasies as a keyboard panoply of artistic bravura. The bass harmonies from Lang Lang’s shifting dynamic palette all but knock you over before the treble repeated notes and vaudevillian syncopations blow you away, old-style. If this is all Lang’s bid for the mantle of Horowitz, it’s going to be hard for the competition to raise the ante.
— Gary Lemco