There were plenty of wild cheers at last night's Lang Lang concert, so I am sure some of you disagreed with my assessment. If so -- please register here and comment. Of course, you can also tell me that you agree with me!
By the way, People Magazine just named the Chinese pianists one of its "Sexist Men Alive." I know he acts like a rock star on stage, and there is a certain sexiness about that, but I am just not seeing comparing him to the others on the list! But beauty is in the eye of the beholder (piano playing, too).
It's been more than a quarter of a century since the last piano recital at Heinz Hall. It's not a question of whether or not a soloist's sound can fill the large hall, but whether or not the pianist's fans can. The Pittsburgh Symphony would love to book recitals on nights the hall is dark, but the approximately 2,700 seats are too much for most pianists.
Not Lang Lang.
The Chinese pianist -- and probably the most famous classical artist in the world -- nearly sold out the joint, and with a rather serious program of Schubert, Bartok, Debussy and Chopin. But Lang Lang is virtuosic not just with stunning pianistic technique, but also at rendering works fun for the audience by making phrases leap out with vitality all his own.
But unfortunately, this rendering often is indeed a melting down of the original. His performance of Schubert's Piano Sonata No. 20 was a muddled parade of striking phrases rather than an whole artistic utterance. Lang Lang varied every statement of recurring themes in first movement, losing the long line. His tone in the second was gorgeous, but the Scherzo had little resemblance to the Viennese conception of rhythm and the finale was chocked full of whimsical ritards and decrescendos. The dynamic range was either extremely quiet or loud.
Bartok's Piano Sonata, Sz. 80, was a wild romp, with a galloping first movement and well-timed accelerando in the finale. The rhythms weren't incisive in the Bartokian tradition, but I never enjoyed the piece so much.
Maybe this is the key to hearing Lang Lang -- sit back and let his impulsive, rock star-like playing wash over you, even if it seems to alter the pieces. In this regard, he is akin to many beloved conductors with ultra-personal interpretations. And there is no doubt that his constantly aggressive and varied-by-the-measure approach has brought new fans and new attention to classical music.
But I couldn't help thinking as Lang Lang continuously lost the tone color he started with in selected Preludes by Debussy and as he obliterated musical tension with a ridiculously rushed Chopin "Heroic" Polonaise, that he could give everyone much more by trusting the score's inherent power more.