> Rachmaninov (Piano Concerto No.3) - Chinese Folk Melody - Scriabin [CH]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto no. 3 in d, op. 30 (1)

Liu Yang River (2)
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Etudes: op.2/1, op. 8/2, 3, 8, 10, 11, 12, op. 42/4, 3, op. 65/3 (3)
Lang Lang (pianoforte)
St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov (1)
Recorded 22.8.2001, Royal Albert Hall, London, live (1, 2)
20.10.2001, Oberlin College, Ohio (3)
TELARC CD 80582 [71’ 48"]


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The booklet contains the usual assurances about "history in the making" etc, but we’re used to this and wary. I would single out the op. 8/11 étude as evidence that this is an artist of real quality. This dreamy music is caught to absolute perfection and with rare poetry. In general the Scriabin group is handled with both great observance of the score and total spontaneity. The naturalness of Lang Lang’s talent is not in doubt. However, I would point to op. 8/12 which, among much that is sweepingly fine, sounds a warning bell or two. Lang Lang has a habit, when the music is building up to a climax, of pulling back, drifting into a piano and then starting to build up again. This could become a mannerism if it is not checked, and I think it accounts for the fact that the Rachmaninov (I noted a particular example of this in the first movement cadenza) is more effective in reverie than in surging climaxes.

Granted that Lang Lang and Temirkanov seem to be agreed in presenting a rather elegiac view of the concerto – on his own the conductor gets lethargic at times – and granted that there is a lot of highly poetic work here, the performance seems not yet entirely focused. In the second movement, in particular, changes of tempo sometimes burst upon us, spoiling the flow and segmenting the music.

Another reason why this is a nice souvenir of an artist who is surely here to stay rather than a first choice for Rach 3 is that the recording is not ideally balanced. Near the beginning the piano seemed too forward, obscuring the melodic writing in the strings, then later some wind solos, particularly from the bassoon, popped right out, yet, when we really needed to hear them, as when in the second movement the first movement main theme is recalled against iridescent piano writing, these same wind instruments are hardly audible. The microphones have concentrated on the strings’ front desks to the extent that we hear their individual vibrato, and this has the effect of making it sound as though they are only about four to the part, which I presume was not the case.

So, a slightly guarded welcome, and a suggestion that Lang Lang works, at least on record, mainly on smaller canvasses for the moment (more Scriabin? Some Chopin?) until he has filled out to heroic-concerto size. But, if you want to follow the career of a highly promising talent, don’t hesitate, and some of the Scriabin performances will not be easily bettered elsewhere.

Christopher Howell

See also review by Jonathan Woolf

Marc Bridle interviews lang Lang

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