Lang Lang shows fire and maturity at Arsht Center

By Lawrence Budmen

Lang Lang is the star attraction for the first North American tour of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra and the celebrated Chinese pianist drew a large crowd Monday night at the Arsht Center. After making his initial reputation as a power-pounding wunderkind, Lang Lang has embraced a wider, more sophisticated repertoire in recent years . For his Miami concert, however, he chose Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, an unabashed showpiece.

Eschewing his former penchant for volume and flashy histrionics, the pianist imbued Prokofiev’s 1921 tour de force with finesse as well as fire. The initial Allegro displayed Lang Lang’s nimble fingerwork but also rhapsodic sweep, rhythmic incisiveness and a kaleidoscopic range of colors. He was superbly attuned to the mercurial changes of mood in the theme and variations, balancing lyricism and angularity.

The finale went at lightning speed, building to a dazzling climax that was all the more effective for the absence of exaggerated accents and excessive volume. In the central episode Lang Lang displayed great sensitivity to the music’s line and pulse, bringing a sense of sadness and poignancy to one of Prokofiev’s most distinctive melodies. He captured the wit, brusqueness and energy of the concerto’s episodic segments.

The pianist’s memorable performance was splendidly supported by conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the Schleswig-Holstein ensemble. Eschenbach channeled luminous string textures and pinpointed Prokofiev’s sardonic wind writing with acerbic precision. The orchestra was in perfect sync with the soloist’s minute changes of tempo and emphasis.

In response to a prolonged cheering ovation, Lang Lang offered an encore of a Chopin waltz, rekindling the spirit of a past generation of Chopin pianists by introducing emphatic hesitations, liberal rubato  and rhythmic flexibility into the melodic line. He clearly demonstrated growing artistic maturity and musicality combined with superlative technique.

Composed of musicians under the age of twenty-seven, the Schleswig-Holstein orchestra  is the resident ensemble of a summer festival at Salzau Castle near Hamburg. Comparable to similar ensembles at Tanglewood and Aspen, the orchestra’s string section displays hair-trigger agility and burnished tone. Eschenbach exploited these strengths to the fullest in Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 (Classical). Except for an overly deliberate Gavotte, the performance moved at a  rapid clip, Eschenbach drawing a beguiling singing line in the Larghetto and sparkling precision in the witty finale.

The opening chord of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major was not played in unison but the ensemble quickly recovered as Eschenbach offered a patrician view of this “apotheosis of the dance.” He brought unusual depth and elegiac gravity to the Allegretto. In the trio of the Scherzo, the ensemble’s horns were rock solid and precise. Eschenbach took the finale at top speed to stunning effect, concluding a lithe, vivacious reading.

As an encore he led a tautly paced version of Beethoven’s Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, the winds’ bright timbres adding zest to a high-energy performance.

Lang Lang and the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach play 8 p.m. Wednesday and 2 p.m. Thursday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

Posted in Performances

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Tue Mar 30, 2010
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