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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lang Lang and Rattle finally unite on disc with compelling readings the celebrate the heights of virtuosity, 23 Oct 2013
This review is from: Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 - Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2 (CD/DVD) (Audio CD)
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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Location: Leola, Pa United States

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