> Rachmaninov (Piano Concerto No.3) Scriabin (Etudes) [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No 3
Encore: Liu Yang River
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Op 2 No 1
Op 8 No2
Op 8 No 3
Op 8 No 8
Op 8 No 10
Op 8 No 11
Op 8 No 12
Op 42 No 4
Op 42 No 3
Op 65 No 3
Lang Lang, piano
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Yuri Temirkanov (Rachmaninov)
Recorded Royal Albert Hall, London 22 August 2001 (Rachmaninov and Encore), Oberlin College, Ohio, USA 20 October 2001 (Scriabin)
TELARC CD-80582 [71’48]


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The centrepiece of this disc by the much-heralded nineteen-year-old Lang Lang is his 2001 Proms performance of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano concerto. Lang Lang was born in China and by the age of thirteen had performed Chopin’s Etudes – both sets – in both Beijing and New York. Accepted into the Curtis Institute in 1997 he currently studies with Gary Graffman. Like many a young soloist he came to prominence by substituting for an ailing colleague – in this case in 1999 for André Watts.

It was a challenge for Telarc both to record him in the Rachmaninov and also in the Albert Hall. The former is a notorious pianistic minefield, the latter a notorious venue. I can offer only a qualified welcome aurally. The Hall has defeated the most sophisticated of recording teams and Telarc’s is no exception. The piano is very closely miked, orchestral detail submerged and frequently diffuse. Subsidiary and counter themes are often barely audible and though the engineers catch some fine orchestral contributions the aural perspective remains decisively skewed in favour of the soloist, to the detriment of the musical argument.

There is no doubt that Lang Lang is already a formidably equipped pianist. He has a technique that remains pretty much unruffled by Rachmaninov’s exorbitant demands. His sensitivity to the musical syntax is equally apparent and the pairing with Temirkanov is clearly a successful one, with the conductor solicitous to the needs of his soloist – maybe over solicitous on occasion. Lang Lang opens the Concerto with an inward and musing intimacy which is very attractive. I greatly liked the still-raw sound of the Russian Orchestra’s horn section and Lang Lang’s nicely graded tonalities with their range of horizontal colours and the evenness of his tone production. In the slow movement Temirkanov gives the burnished lower strings full rein in their lyrical statements and Lang Lang plays with involvement and intimacy. But I found a sectionality to the playing and a disjunctiveness at their chosen tempo which rendered the movement too solidly emphatic. In the finale Telarc captures the delicious piano and flute passage with fidelity but again I found the rubato applied rather than organic, the fluctuations of tempo disruptive and the tempo relationships too approximate. As the movement develops important orchestral thematic material is lost in the balance and Lang Lang’s enthusiasm, though admirable, crucially lacks wit and a sense of architectural goal. It’s perhaps unfair to a talented young artist constantly to rake up the names of the composer himself, of Horowitz and Earl Wild but the fact remains that in their hands the concerto propels itself onward with engulfing logic and momentum, incidental felicities subsumed into the fabric of the score. Even without these three names there are now about fifty recordings of the Concerto in the catalogue. I’m sure Lang Lang will return to the Concerto in time in a more sympathetic acoustic and with increased experience.

Scriabin, born a year earlier than Rachmaninov, is an appropriate disc mate. Lang Lang has selected ten Etudes covering opp 2, 8, 42 and 65 but concentrating very much on op 8. He catches something of the scaled passion of these miniatures with playing that is alive to the potential for colour and deftness. In Op 8 No 10 he employs an incendiary rifle shot bass whereas he is plangently evocative in Op 8 No 11. There’s some dizzying playing in Op 8 No 12 and in the early Op 2 No 1 he is sensitive to the cushioned potential of the music.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Christopher Howell

Marc Bridle interviews Lang Lang

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