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A superstar pianist emerges, but there are still signs of immaturity
on 7 April 2012
Lang Lang arrived on the Classical music scene with a bang, sending audiences into raves with his flair and concert mannerisms. He's very popular, but the critics haven't been as enthusiastic. Yet the facts speak for themselves; he's been engaged by the American "Big Five", Berlin, and Vienna. You surely can't fool professional musicians all the time, so isn't there some substance to his playing?
The Tchaikovsky 1st isn't underplayed, so it's imperative the Lang Lang says something new of his own. Thankfully, he has strong orchestral support with Barenboim and Chicago, so everything looks promising. Lang Lang has a strong technique and he seems like a show-off on stage, but what is instantly striking about his interpretation is how sensitive he is. This is first apparent when he enters with those glorious, whamming D-flat chords. He plays them almost gently, not with reckless abandon. It works, but why couldn't he take advantage of the heroic potential? Moving through the rest of the work, it seems that Lang Lang is going for a reflective approach. Barenboim shares his vision, and while Chicago sounds mighty, the music lacks drive. Lang Lang wallows in the beauty of the piece, often trying to dazzle listeners through surprises in phrasing and dynamics. For example, in the finale, he gives strong accents to some of the chords in the opening theme while fluctuating freely. It's a relief to find a pianist who actually tries to say something, but the whole effort sounds fussed over.
The Mendelssohn 1st isn't as familiar as the Tchaikovsky but it's popular nonetheless. Once again, both Lang Lang and Barenboim go for a meditative approach. Our Chinese superstar wants us to know that he's able to produce beautiful lyricism. He certainly can, but it doesn't sound genuine. The music doesn't have momentum and sometimes it nearly drags. This is the kind of interpretation that offers wonderful details and glorious playing, but its overall effect is vague. I would love to hear more of Mendelssohn's youthfulness, more sunniness. And while Lang Lang's playing is beautiful, it doesn't sound natural. But all the same, it's clear that Lang Lang does have personality. The music never lapses into blandness.
It's apparent that Lang Lang has talent. He tries to showcase sensitivity in this disc and succeeds, but it ends up sounding forced. I enjoyed every moment I spent listening to this disc, but Lang Lang has room to grow.