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Lang Lang Live at Carnegie Hall
CD:
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Abegg-Variationen [8:18];
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonata in C major Hob. XVI:50 [15:11];

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Fantasia in C major D 760, "Wanderer-Fantasie" [22:51];

Tan DUN (b.1957)
Eight Memories in Watercolor, Op. 1 (1978-1979)
Missing Moon. Staccato Beans; Herdboy's Song; Blue Nun; Red Wilderness; Ancient Burial; Floating Clouds; Sunrain; [14:59];
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27 No. 2 [6:41]
DVD:
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Réminiscences du Don Juan de Mozart, S. 418 [16:24]; Liebestraum, S. 541 No. 3 [5:46]
;
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Träumerei Rêverie from "Kinderszenen" [4:11]; Traditional (arr. Lang Lang and Lang Guo-ren) ‘Horses’ [2:52]
Bonus Interviews - On playing at Carnegie Hall - On playing Haydn - On playing Schubert - On playing Tan Dun - On playing Liszt - On Childhood - On Youth and Music
Lang Lang (piano)
Lang Guo-ren (erhu on ‘Horses’)
rec. live, Carnegie Hall, New York, 7 November 2003
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4777564 [CD: 65:23; DVD: 61:00] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


I have to confess to a little puzzlement on receiving this Lang Lang double disc set for review; after all, surely it was only released in 2004 and reviewed widely, including these pages (see review). There quickly followed a DVD of the same Carnegie Hall concert, a fairly standard procedure, so what is the above? Well, this is the ‘Deluxe Edition’, which appears to be a slice of shameless milking of the product by DG, whereby we get the lion’s share of the concert (up to the final Liszt item) on audio-only CD, and then the Liszt and all the encores, plus short interview fillers, on a companion DVD. Fair enough I suppose, in this day and age, though some of the pianist’s many admirers may well be frustrated at only having half and half, as it were, to say nothing of already owning one of the previous incarnations.
 

So it’s slightly odd to have just the playing for most items and then to witness Lang Lang’s rather emotive physical keyboard manner for the rest of the recital. For my part, I much prefer the CD, which has better sound quality anyway, with no distraction, so maybe that’s why fewer items are on the DVD. Whatever the case, I certainly enjoyed much of the playing on offer. 

This recital joins a starry list of famous Carnegie Hall debuts, and the programming – and playing – of the first item reminded me of Evgeny Kissin’s RCA debut set from 1990. The Schumann Abegg Variations is a marvellously inventive, exuberant 8 minutes, and Lang Lang really goes for it. His technique is easily the equal of Kissin’s, and on comparison I also find his tone rather more pleasing and his phrasing less four-square and dogged. Kissin’s right hand passagework is miraculous, but the Chinese pianist finds a tad more colour and variety in the inner sections. 

His Haydn I find less quirky than previous reviewers, who have criticized the phrasing and rubato. Yes, it’s true he rather indulges in the slow movement, which I find unconvincing, but the outer movements have a wit and zest which is very infectious. Brendel or Schiff will give you ‘safer’ readings, but Lang Lang’s quirky edge is similar to the recent Hamelin reading on Hyperion, and that’s high praise indeed. 

He barely waits for the thunderous applause to subside before launching into Schubert’s great ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy. Here, I do like his architectural overview of the piece, which can seem rather diffuse and episodic in the wrong hands. He paces well, careful not to take things too quickly too early, so that we really get a sense of cumulative impact when the fugue is finally reached. Overall, I still prefer Perahia on Sony (just) but this is mightily impressive and intelligent live playing. 

The Tan Dun ‘Watercolour’ pieces are quite enjoyable, sitting somewhere between Debussy and early Bartok, and are an obvious and worthwhile addition to the programme by a Chinese pianist. The Chopin Nocturne is less enjoyable, the phrasing pulled around rather mercilessly and the bass lines unnecessarily thumped out. 

The Liszt Don Juan Fantasy is stunning in its virtuosity – the more so for seeing those fingers fly in a blur across the keyboard – but I have heard more convincing shaping of the middle ‘Mozartian’ section, especially from that grand Lisztian Earl Wild. Still, it’s an astonishing live performance and Lang Lang’s grimacing and contorting, whilst a bit affected and theatrical, shows a genuine ‘living’ of the moods and contrasts within the piece. 

The encores are nicely done, with an appreciatively straight Träumerei and an exceptional Liebestraum, elegantly shaped and executed. The ‘Horses’ bit is a throwaway oddity mainly there to give his dad a chance to show his accomplishment on the erhu, a bowed one-string affair that sounds at times like a saw. The audience, rather predictably, go into raptures at the end. 

The DVD extras are also predictable, with short (2 or 3 minute) interviews extolling the virtues of his chosen items, rather than any probing questions. The best, by far, is the section ‘On Youth and Music’, where he is seen wowing a teenage audience in what looks like a rough-ish inner city school by playing Liszt on their battered grand then listening intently as some of them doodle at the keyboard. At least it shows genuine humility for his gifts and the need to share them - and not just with a white, intelligent middle-class audience. 

This may fill a gap if you don’t have either of the earlier issues, though from what I can ascertain it’s dearer than either of those so I’m not quite sure of its place in the market. Ultimately, if you can do without the extras- and I could – the original CDs are cheapest and probably still most worthwhile.

Tony Haywood


 


 




 


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