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Lang Lang Live at Carnegie Hall
CD1:
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Abegg-Variationen, Op. 1 (1829-30) [8’18]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Piano Sonata No. 60 in C, HobXVI:50 (c1794/5) [15’11]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Fantasia in C, D760, ‘Wanderer’ (1822) [22’51]
TAN DUN (born 1957)

Eight Memories in Watercolor, Op. 1 (1978-9) [14’59]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Nocturne in D flat, Op. 27 No. 2 [6’41]
CD2:
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Réminiscences de Don Juan de Mozart, S418 (1841) [16’14]. Liebestraum, S541 No. 3 (c1850) [5’46].
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Kinderszenen, Op. 15 (1838) - Träumerei [4’11].
TRADITIONAL, after Huang Hai Hwai, Chen Rao Xing and Shen Li Qun, arr. Lang Lang and Lang Guo-ren
Horses [2’52]
Lang Lang (piano); Lang Guo-ren (erhu)
Rec. live at Carnegie Hall, New York, on November 7th, 2003
DG 474 820-2 [68’24 + 29’12]


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Charting the progress of Lang Lang’s career has been a strange business. At times, he has excited and moved; at others, simply disappointed (a Mendelssohn concerto at the RFH fits this bill nicely). Certainly having been to his recitals this programme exudes a familiar ring (I believe I’ve heard every piece live myself - see http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2003/May03/Schumann195.htm - including the piece for erhu and piano!: http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2003/Apr03/LangLang304.htm ). By now his strengths are apparent. His technique makes mincemeat of the Liszt Réminiscences de Don Juan, and he shows a real affinity with the Impressionist/Oriental Tan Dun Watercolour pieces. Yet there is something incomplete about it all, almost as if the pieces have ceased to grow in Lang’s mind and body. That is not to imply tiredness - the occasion of Carnegie Hall has seen to that - it is all just not as fresh as might have been.

Schumann’s Abegg Variations is a wonderful work, and Lang Lang plays it in appropriately dreamy fashion. And it sets up the quality of the recording, too - the top end retains some depth, which is entirely appropriate to this music. There is only the occasional move towards the superficial (around 3’30) and, hardly surprisingly (for Lang Lang, I suspect, as quite a sense of humour), the end will raise a smile.

Humour seems to be a bit of a speciality for Lang, given the ‘encore’ with his father, ‘Horses’, with its neighing impression at the end from the erhu (a Chinese bowed one-string instrument). One might have thought, therefore, that the Haydn would be a highlight, and indeed the first movement has more life than Lang’s live performance at the Wigmore. He plays the intimacy card in the slow movement (which he sustains at his slow speed, just); the finale is almost self-consciously sweet.

Lang Lang’s affinity for Liszt should give some clue towards his view of Schubert. He pounds the opening relentlessly, cutting off staccato chords mercilessly. In fairness, it does become apparent there is delicacy in this reading, also. The slow movement is languorous, but it works because of the live factor. The scherzo is initially alive with cheeky chappieness, but unfortunately loses momentum; the finale is determined, but does not build up a huge head of steam.

Tan Dun’s Eight Memories in Watercolor are oriental Debussyisms at times, and can tend towards the doodly. The second, ‘Staccato Beans’ (stupid title) is nice and music-boxy, the ending of the set (‘Sunrain’) hectic.

Chopin’s D flat Nocturne is one of that composer’s best pieces in that genre. With Lang Lang it flows, but does not appear anything special, acting rather as aural balm after the end of the Memories.

CD2 is only 29 minutes long, but includes one of Lang Lang’s party pieces, the Réminiscences de Don Juan of Liszt, in a marvellous performance that combines real feeling for the Lisztian legato line, a real sense of flow and - importantly - fun. The audience, predictably perhaps, laps it up.

Encores begin with a peaceful, moderately unaffected ‘Träumerei’, the Chinese horses mentioned above (which goes down a storm, as it did in London), and a Liszt ‘Liebestraum’ that rises naturally to a climax and is memorable for its liquid accompaniments.

Memorable moments, then, and a useful memento of what was obviously quite an occasion (especially for Lang Lang).

Colin Clarke


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