Lang Lang moves beyond the flash to reveal a deeper artist

By Lawrence Budmen

Lang Lang performed music of Bach, Schubert and Chopin Thursday night at the Arsht Center.

Lang Lang’s media appearances and participation in such events as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics have brought him the prominence  of a Hollywood star. His fans packed the Arsht Center Thursday night for a recital of works by Bach, Schubert and Chopin and the cheers that greeted the 29-year-old Chinese pianist’s first appearance attested to his celebrity status.

While he attained initial success as a power-pounding wunderkind, Lang Lang has received private coaching from Daniel Barenboim and Christoph Eschenbach and has evolved into a probing, sensitive artist.

His performance of Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major astutely balanced interpretive freedom and impeccable Baroque style. His stately reading of the Prelude was infused with a wide tonal and coloristic palette. He dispatched the darting scales of the Allemande in a crisp, no-nonsense manner and the dancing figurations of the Corrente were bright, snappy and devoid of affectation. Appropriately, the Sarabande was the heart of Lang Lang’s performance. At once austere and sublimely beautiful, the power and soulfulness of Bach’s music was scaled with serene expressivity and lightness of touch. There was energy and verve in the two minuets and wit in the quirky rhythms of the final Gigue but the strongly accentuated minor-key episode suggested darker shadows amidst the gaiety.

Schubert’s majestic final Sonata in B-flat Major, D.960, received a deeply personal performance, the music’s grandeur and pathos vividly conveyed. The tempo of the opening Molto moderato was daringly broad; yet Lang Lang sustained the long line of Schubert’s discourse, the depth and intensity surging to an emotional crescendo. The calm, elegiac peace of the movement’s closing pages was a catharsis, exquisitely played.

An aura of bleak tragedy pervaded the Andante sostenuto, the pace slow but the momentum unabated. From the softest pianissimo to the velocity of the movement’s climactic section, the huge range of terraced dynamics enhanced the music’s anguished drama  A fleet reading of the Scherzo lifted some of the darkness, Viennese charm evoked in the dance-like rhythms. The finale was given heavier weight than usual, with an undercurrent of fierce agitation teeming beneath the surface. Lang Lang capped this deeply personal and beautiful reading with a hair-trigger coda at lightning speed that brought the cheering audience to its feet.

Chopin’s 12 Etudes, Op.25 demonstrated Lang Lang’s formidable technical arsenal. The cascading octaves of Etude No. 9, the galloping energy in No. 3 in F Major, and relentless speed of No. 12 in C minor were impressive. The old Lang Lang took center stage in No. 10 in B minor, played with fire-breathing intensity at top volume. Still, the most memorable moments came through the subtly shaped melody of No. 1 in A flat, the distinctly Russian touch applied to No. 4 in A minor and the lovely coloration in the haunting melodic line of No. 8 in D-flat.

The judicious rubato and instinctive rhythmic vivacity in the encore of Chopin’s Grande Valse Brilliante, marked Lang Lang as a Chopin player of the highest order.

Posted in Performances

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Fri May 18, 2012
at 11:33 am
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