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4.5 out of 5 stars
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 - Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Cd/Dvd)
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 26 October 2013
There is no shortage of brilliant recordings of Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto but this one has an edge of excitement that makes its appearance a red-letter day. Lang Lang is totally superb but the real difference is in the sound. This new recording allows you to hear things I have never heard before, and with orchestration as colourful as Prokofiev's, this is a huge asset. It's as if you're in the middle of a forest painted by Rousseau, with fleshy leaves, outsize flowers and tigers all around. Simon Rattle has always brought out the beauty of sound in detail in all his recordings, without ever forcing the pace, so that you have time to hear everything (in this regard he reminds me a bit of Ernest Ansermet). His contribution here is immeasurable in giving this work its full stature, and when you add Lang Lang's thrilling virtuosity, tonal range, and sheer fire-power, you have something extraordinary. His phrasing continually struck me as unique, so that the piece seems as if you're hearing it for the first time. The other vital aspect is the quality of the recording, which is fantastically big and vivid. The recording producer Christoph Franke is seen working with the sound engineer Rene Moller at the sessions in a 11-minute behind-the-scenes film, and their attention to the piano tone and the balance with the orchestra has yielded amazing results. I had the same feeling in the Marinsky's version of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no. 1 with Trifonov - this sense of being in the middle of the players is fantastic.

The Bartok concerto has similar virtues, although it is in a more austere idiom. Personally I prefer it to sound a bit dryer and more percussive, as you hear in the Pollini/Abbado version, where Lang Lang and Rattle are more "expressive" and varied in tonal nuance. I'm sure this approach is just as valid, and again there is the range of colour in the orchestral sound. In fact the comparison with Prokofiev seems to emphasise their differences, with Bartok sounding much more modern, even in the "night-music" of the slow movement, and less readily suggestive of images from the real world. Altogether this is something of a landmark release, and Lang Lang fans will surely be happy to have the film, plus the first movement of the Prokofiev on DVD, as well as a large number of photos from the sessions, some of them quite funny, and certainly worth a look.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto has long been one of my favourites, but I have never heard a better version than Ashkenazy's Prokofiev: The Piano Concertos 1-5. However this is certainly a good contender now for the best version - with better sound and spectacular playing from Lang Lang and the Berlin Phil.

The recording is superb and the accompanying "making of" DVD gives some insight into what went into this - with Rattle and the pianist going through the score carefully with the sound engineers. The piano playing is incredibly vibrant and when you see it on the DVD, it is breathtaking. Rattle points out passages where he thought Lang Lang must have had extra fingers - but he shows how he did it by 'miming' his technique, over the score.

The presentation is very good with a comprehensive, thick booklet that includes many colour photos from the recording sessions. Unlike most liner notes - the content comes primarily from the main protagonists and it is interesting to hear their insight and it all adds to the experience. For example, Lang Lang explains how he hears oriental sounds in the concerto and Rattle points out how different these two pieces are, despite being written within 2 years of each other in central Europe.

Both pieces come across very well in this recording and piano/orchestra never sound less than virtuosic and brilliant. The pieces show two completely different approaches to the piano concerto and Rattle explains how he leads in the Bartok, where the orchestral part is more complex and involved. But in the Prokofiev he allows Land Lang to lead and they let the orchestra follow and support him. All in all, music making of the highest order, recorded in the highest quality - this has to be 5 stars.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 23 October 2013
Lang Lang and Simon Rattle have worked together for years, so this new disc on Sony Classical comes after the two developed a fondness for each other. Listening to Rattle's thoughts on working with Lang Lang, he seems almost in awe of his gifts and pleased to be working with him. My fear was that Rattle would simply go along with the ride and succumb to fussiness, thereby dragging down the whole enterprise.

But Rattle has shown affinity for both Prokofiev and Bartok in the past and thankfully in this case he is at the height of his game. From the start of the Prokofiev 3rd Concerto we hear music-making that is truly mesmerizing. Lang Lang plays with command boosted by his dazzling technique, delving into the work with a true sense of adventure. He is a chameleon of the keyboard, finding many shades of color and elaborating with his combination of nuance and sheer charisma. One might find his pianism less individual than past readings from Kissin and Argerich, who both mastered the work, but for dash and energy, Lang Lang probably surpasses them both. The decisive factor in making this album a success may be Rattle, actually, who is sparkling and idiomatic, more so than Abbado with the same orchestra for both Kissin and Argerich. He finds great variety all throughout the score but his naturalness caught me off guard--there's none of his afflicting self-consciousness. The Berliners are beyond words and with the wonderful recorded sound, the experience could hardly be bettered.

This Bartok 2nd comes on the heels of a great reading from Leif Ove Andsnes and Pierre Boulez with the same orchestra a few years back. This reading is less precise and direct but the flexibility in the phrasing is truly remarkable. Is it a bad thing that the scoring doesn't sound as percussive? I don't think so, because we enter a whole new sound world that has plenty of energy, only it's less exhausting for the listener. We've reached a point where musicians can afford to play challenging works like these without struggling to reach the end. The danger is that we could lose some of the novelty in the process, but here are two skilled modernists who skillfully make their way through the score, finding more meaning instead of less. Rattle sees this music as having many facets of rich instrumental color, so once again the orchestral playing is simply gorgeous. Lang Lang doesn't sweat his way through, playing instead with captivating control that is carefully guided and adept. In all, I don't think of Bartok as having so much contrast; there's an almost whimsical feeling that makes every bar fresh and often unexpected.

I had apprehensions about the coupling of Lang Lang and Rattle, fearing they would feed off of one another's tendency towards fussiness. Instead we have consummate musicianship that jumps to the top of the list for lovers of these concerti.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2014
This is my first Lang Lang CD, and I picked a good one: his gifts are very well suited to the athleticism of these concertos, and along with the digital dexterity (or an extension of it) is an amazing control of dynamics. Both piano and orchestra are well up front in the sound picture, and that means that the textures of both the solo playing and the orchestral instruments come through beautifully. Listening (and re-listening selectively), I came to the conclusion that the Bartok is the more compelling piece -- it has a savagery and more subtle expressive qualities that the Prokofiev, for all its flamboyance, doesn't have -- though heaven knows the Prokofiev is lots of fun. I particularly like the build-up in the Bartok middle movement where we get the barking dogs leading up to the panic button -- say from about 7.45 to 8.45 on track 5! Those of you who know this music better than I do will know what I mean. In both concertos there is tempo variation, sometimes quite extreme, within the movements themselves. Rattle and Lang Lang handle the switches and transitions very well, so there's always a sense of possible surprises that makes for attentive and enjoyable listening. I have only one other Bartok Second recording -- Kovacevich's, from 1968, with Colin Davis. It's very persuasive, and though it's well-recorded, there isn't as vivid a presence. Still, Kovacevich shapes the first 5 minutes of the second movement suspensefully, in a way that Lang Lang, a more coloristic player, doesn't -- and Kovacevich was up to the presto stuff in 1968! Lang Lang, though, doesn't make an ugly or unmusical sound, and even if his tone isn't quite as golden as, say, Kissin's, it's still something to hear. Enjoy!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 17 November 2013
Lang Lang's approach to this complex piece by Prokofiev takes on an attacking mode, it is very well executed and delivers a great soundscape across the whole work and there is next to nothing to be critical of, so why then do I prefer the Michel Beroff / Kurt Masur version from 1988? well I think there is greater "Feeling" in the Beroff version, he seems to be inside the piece rather than
this "performance" of it by Lang Lang...
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2013
I don't want to say anything about Lang Lang's performance because it's excellent as usual. The quality of the DVD is good but the running is not smooth, stops a while sometime. But other than that, everything is fantastic!! Worth spending 14 pounds if you're a lang lang fan!!
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on 1 July 2015
What can be said about Lang. Magic.
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on 3 November 2014
Conductor and pianist brilliant
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2014
I bought this as a present for my father for Christmas and he loves it. Lang lang is a real show man.
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on 6 August 2014
Very good recording...
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