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S & H Recital Review

Schumann, Haydn, Schubert, Tan Dun, Chopin, Liszt Lang Lang (piano), Wigmore Hall, May 19th, 2003 (CC).

It seems Lang Lang is substantially more at home in the recital hall than he is when appearing with orchestra. His recent
Mendelssohn First Concerto in late April was a disappointment, yet just weeks later here he was in his element at the Wigmore giving a memorable and varied recital. The hall was absolutely stuffed, the atmosphere expectant. To his credit, Lang Lang delivered in no uncertain terms.

Schumannís Abegg Variations, Op. 1, performed to the accompaniment of rain on the Wigmoreís roof, followed the composerís shifting moods perfectly. Sudden emotional juxtapositions were perfectly placed, decorations were lovingly presented and the capricious contrasted with the suave. There was not even the slightest hint of warming in to the recital: the audience was invited in to Schumannís world with immediate effect.

Traditionally, Haydn would have been the logical starting point. Here, the late C major (Hob. XVI:50), second on the programme, acted as a breath of fresh air. Another Haydn Sonata on his Telarc recital disc was good, but this seemed even fresher. Lang Lang was unafraid to use a large tonal range to articulate Haydnís structure. His Adagio was emotive, but within its own limits, while the finale was capricious but with a sense of drama. Here there were infectious high spirits (in the first movement he seemed to be trying to emulate Brendelís witty way with this composer, but not quite succeeding).

Gestures spoke volumes in the Haydn. In Schubertís Wanderer Fantasy Lang Lang seemed to want to take this to extremes, though, so that they occasionally degenerated into mere point making in the first movement. This was a grand and sonorous reading in places, though, the lower registers lushly rich in the Adagio, contrasting with the Presto scherzo, which seemed to want to take off and dance at any given moment. The strong finale veered towards the virtuoso, giving hints of what was to come.

There is no doubting Lang Langís devotion to the music of China; he even had a hand in revisions to Tan Dunís Eight Memories in Watercolour, Op. 1 of 1978. Some of these pieces are based on folk melodies from Dunís native Hunan. They make a convincing set, often coming across as Debussy with more authentically Oriental overtones, although the last, ĎSunrainí is closer to a Chinese equivalent to Coplandís Rodeo. Perhaps the post-Debussian sheen of some of the pieces made an intended link to Chopinís D flat Nocturne, Op. 27 No. 2, with its proto-Debussian explorations in the misty, fantastical coda. Lang Lang was flowing and dreamy here, his voice-leading carefully considered, but he did give the impression of being Ďoutsideí Chopin, looking in. Perhaps his mind was on the crippling difficulties of the Liszt?

The Réminiscences de Don Juan, S418 has a distinctly limited playership. Lang Lang seemed to relish anything and everything Liszt threw at him, though: it was as if he had saved the full force of his playing, both dynamically and virtuosically, for here. The invocation of the Donís dark world was visceral, the low and crowded sonorities much more than empty rhetoric. Perhaps the ĎLà ci daremí duet was too serious, but there was plenty of delicacy. The accuracy was remarkable, the identification with this side of Lisztís persona all but complete. The semi-standing ovation was well deserved, of that there is no doubt.

Colin Clarke



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