Lang Lang

Live and Fantastic

First on RCA, then on DG, the ubiquitous 28-year-old Lang Lang now makes his debut on Sony in a two-disc live recital from Vienna’s Musikverein. Heralded as “the hottest artist on the classical music planet”, his adoring public remains countered by critical brickbats hurled by those with an in-bred suspicion of glamour and celebrity.
So let me say at once that the youthful excess and rampant exhibitionism of much of Lang Lang’s earliest work is today transformed into playing which for the greater part is as stylish and perceptive as it is brilliant. His dazzling animation is entirely suited to Beethoven’s most virtuoso early Op 2 No 3 Sonata, yet is never achieved at the expense of an ample variety of mood and character. The Adagio is given with an imaginative range and delicacy, as poised and inward-looking as the following Scherzo and finale are perky and fast-paced. Again, in the Appassionata Sonata, there is little to argue with and much to admire. Everything is as clean as a whistle and if the finale could be thought lightweight by those who favour a more formidable and heaven-storming sense of Beethoven’s rage against the elements, such unfaltering poise and assurance achieve a special musical authority and conviction. His enthusiasm and affection for Albéniz’s Iberia Book 1 is again engaging, even when his lavish and exotic coloration and inflection hardly rival Alicia de Larrocha’s more classic and legendary account or (particularly in Lang Lang’s heavy-handed “El puerto”) Marc-Andre Hamelin’s mercurial ease and fantasy.
He is far less steely and relentless than, say, Richter in Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata, in music reflecting “a world without reason or equilibrium” (Richter) and his tendency to linger and admire the scenery in the Andante caloroso is repeated in three heavily personalised Chopin items offered as encores for Chopin Year. Lang Lang dreams and dawdles his way through the A flat Etude, Op 25 No 1, but he can turn on the charm in spades in the A flat Waltz, Op 34 No 1. Certainly his Viennese audience has few doubts, greeting his every note with a storm of whoops and cheers. Clearly everyone is having a ball and, make no mistake, doubting Thomases should take time off to listen to a major talent.