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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26 [30:35]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Piano Concerto No. 2, Sz. 95, BB 101 [30:00]
Lang Lang (piano)
Berliner Philharmoniker/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. 11, 15 February, 13-14 April 2013, Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany
SONY CLASSICAL 88883 732262 [60:40]

Lang Lang is an extraordinary artist, classy and erudite. He has done much to attract a new generation of young people to classical music. I have seen him in recital and was delighted by his remarkable facility and struck by his air of humility.
This is Lang Lang’s first concerto album for the Sony Classics label. He was invited to Berlin to record these two important 20th century piano concertos: Prokofiev 3 and Bartók 2. The set includes an interesting bonus DVD featuring part of a documentary film (The Highest Level) a look behind the scenes directed by Christian Berger filmed at the Lang Lang/Philharmonie recording sessions. There’s also a film of Lang Lang playing the first movement of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3

In the summer of 1921 during his exile from Soviet Russia, Prokofiev was holidaying on the Brittany coast whilst working on his Third Piano Concerto. A brilliant work that boldly makes its presence felt, it is not too difficult to imagine the score as an expression of the turbulence occurring back in the composer’s homeland. Immediately this emotionally charged work explodes into life with Lang Lang’s sparkling playing with seemingly boundless reserves of energy yet always maintaining focus of concentration and precision. I was struck by the challenging changes of tempo and mood in the central theme and variations. Edge of the seat playing in the thrilling Finale: Allegro, ma non troppo exudes vitality and exhilaration.
It is extremely hard for any new recording to compete with the stunning 1967 Berlin account that Martha Argerich made with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Claudio Abbado on Deutsche Grammophon. I have played this new Sony Classics recording several times and Lang Lang certainly equals the boldness, power and communicative quality of Argerich’s account.
Completed in 1931, Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is infamous for being one of the most difficult works in the repertoire. It’s a virile work that comes between the composer’s stage works Bluebeard’s Castle and The Miraculous Mandarin. It was intended as a more accessible work than his earlier uncompromising Piano Concerto No. 1. Outstanding in the opening is Lang Lang’s rhythmic potency borders on the demonic. In the central movement the soloist creates a glorious atmosphere conveying mystery and introspection over an undercurrent of foreboding. This intense pianist generates passionate fervour in the Finale and does so with exhilaration and spontaneity.
Of the recordings of Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2 I have a great admiration for the 1959 Berlin recording played by Géza Anda and the Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Ferenc Fricsay on Deutsche Grammophon. With thrilling playing Lang Lang may exceed Anda with regard to vitality and breadth of dynamic but doesn’t quite display the same level of vibrantly clean articulation.
Under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle the Berliner Philharmoniker is highly persuasive and sympathetic. Not for the first time the woodwind excel - marvellous.
Recorded over a number of sessions the engineers have provided altogether first rate sound to complement stunning performances of real gravitas.  

Michael Cookson