Lang Lang

Lang Lang brought his protean piano magic to the Seattle Symphony- by The Seattle Times

Lang Lang brought his protean piano magic to the Seattle Symphony- from The Seattle Times

 

This weekend, superstar pianist Lang Lang enthralled audiences with performances of Beethoven, Mozart, Respighi and Grieg at Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

By Melinda Bargreen

It’s not often that any artist performs a two-concerto program with the Seattle Symphony — and when that artist is superstar pianist Lang Lang, you can expect a program of unusual interest. A rapt, near-capacity audience showed up to hear him play Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor and Edvard Grieg’s lone but perennially beloved Piano Concerto with the symphony and guest maestro Jakub Hrusa.

What we heard Sunday was in many ways the new, improved Lang Lang: same unbelievable technique, but new levels of restraint and depth, alongside the violent explosions of keyboard fireworks that made him famous in the first place. With Hrusa’s quick reactions to the soloist’s every move, the orchestra not only kept up with this mercurial pianist but also supported him admirably.

Maybe Lang is growing up (he’s 33 now); maybe we’ve just gotten used to the flamboyant gestures and the keyboard choreography he employs. This time, the waving of the hands and the conducting from the piano bench seemed less like grandstanding and more a way for him to get inside the piece and to express his feelings about the music. In any case, Lang gave the Mozart concerto a particularly limpid approach, with phrasing so smooth, it reflected Mozart’s famous dictum that music should “flow like oil.”

Keyboard chords seemed to float as if emanating from a powder puff, instead of from fingers and hammers. At the solo beginning of the dulcet second movement (Larghetto), Lang’s hands hovered over the keys for several seconds before finally making gentle contact.

The Grieg Concerto, understandably, got a very different treatment, appropriate to the work’s surging romanticism and its large-scale, dramatic phrasing. Here Hrusa had to work hard to accompany a soloist who took off like a startled rabbit in one phrase and slowed down another passage into an unexpectedly dreamy reverie.

Lang is possibly the world’s champion at “fast and loud”; he demonstrated those propensities often in a performance that brought out all the dramatic possibilities of the score. But there also were meltingly lovely passages in which the keys were not so much struck as fondled, and the melodies for which Grieg is famous were delineated with care.

Hrusa and his players followed the soloist’s every change in direction, a feat that speaks volumes about the conductor’s control and his great ear. His podium performance underscored last week’s strong impression of his guest-conducting abilities in Seattle.

Of course, there were two orchestral pieces on the program as well. The curtain raiser, Beethoven’s stormy “Coriolan” Overture, demonstrated that Hrusa is a master of the dramatic pause, as well as of Beethoven’s songlike lines. Selections from the colorful “Gli Uccelli” (“The Birds”) by that most pictorial of composers, Ottorino Respighi, opened the second half of the concert. With Hrusa on the podium, the orchestra seemed to have great fun with Respighi’s birdlike squawks and flutterings, emanating in fine style from the winds, strings and percussion.

 

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