Lang Lang displays power and sensitivity at Kravis Center

By Lawrence Budmen

Lang Lang performed Monday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. Photo: Olaf Heine/DG

Lang Lang performed Monday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. Photo: Olaf Heine/DG

The Kravis Center’s Regional Arts concert series presented Lang Lang in recital Monday night and the Chinese piano superstar drew a large and enthusiastic audience. While he has exhibited considerable musical maturity since his early performances which were often loud and unsubtle, he can still be a frustrating artist. The West Palm Beach performance demonstrated Lang Lang’s strengths as well as some tendencies toward harshness and exaggeration.

The opening Bach Italian Concerto got off to a shaky start with a wrong note in the very first bars and a generally metronomic approach to the opening movement, histouch hard and dynamics tending toward extremes of soft and loud. A lovely, almost vocal cantabile line infused the Andante, the melody in the right hand over repeated chords in the left beautifully conveyed. The inner voicings in the fleet and dance like Presto emerged with strength and clarity.

While individual pieces are often played as encores, the twelve vignettes of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons are rarely played in concert as a cycle. These short pieces find Tchaikovsky at his most melodically inspired, the moods ranging from wistful to festive. There were a few digital slips in “By the Hearth” and the deliberate tempo was too slow and the melodic shape and  dynamics  overly exaggerated. Taken at a rapid fire pace, “Carnival” was percussive. Likewise “The Harvest” was merely loud.

The softer pieces fared best. A cell phone ringing incessantly marred the opening of the famous “Barcarolle” but the familiar theme was exquisitely phrased and the melancholy of “Autumn Song” was assayed at measured pace, the variants of soft playing finely colored. Quirky syncopations of “In the Troika” radiated charm and there was delicacy in the final swirling waltz (“Christmas”). The torrents of notes and swift rhythmic shifts of “The Hunt” were an exciting display of sheer pianistic technique.

Lang Lang can be an impressive Chopin player and much of his affinity for the Polish master’s music was on display in his traversal of the Four Scherzos, which formed the program’s second half. He tore into the first B minor work with frenzied passion and terrific fingerwork; yet the middle section was so light as if his hands were merely gliding over the keys. The pauses after the opening phrase of the B-flat minor scherzo were perfectly judged and the bravura octaves up and down the keyboard were spot on.

A fine sensibility for the pulse and flow of Chopin’s shifting moods was strongly projected. There was an almost Lisztian macabre atmosphere to Lang Lang’s reading of the third scherzo (in C-sharp minor), the sheer pianistic power exciting.

After so much high voltage pianism, the final E Major piece was curiously matter of fact and cool, wanting greater dynamic variety and rhythmic flexibility and the hard-edged conclusion verged on sounding ugly. An inevitable ovation brought an encore of the Rondo “Alla Turca” from Mozart’s Sonata No. 11 in A Major that was too fast but filled with character and lively syncopations.

The Regional Arts Concert Series continues with the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Michael Sanderling 8 p.m. Monday and 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. Cellist Johannes Moser is soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme and John Williams’ Suite from Memories of a Geisha at the Monday concert.; 561-832-7469.

Posted in Performances

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Tue Feb 24, 2015
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