Sunday, 7 September 2008

Lang Lang: The Best & Rarities: Review

The Best & Rarities
Deutsche Grammophon 477 7885 (2CDs)

Lang Lang’s appearance at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics has made him the world’s most visible pianist at this point of time. This double CD set, well-timed for the Olympic splash, presents highlights – mostly bleeding chunks - from his four previous albums on the German yellow label, and several extras.

There are hits: a hair-raising reading of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 in Horowitz’s transcription (which just about out-Horowitzes Horowitz), several Chinese melodies pieces including Lu Wenchen’s Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake, Sun Yiqiang’s Spring Dance and Ode to the Yellow River, the second movement of the Yellow River Concerto. These are very idiomatically performed, and one could not desire more from these performances. There are also movements from Beethoven (slow movement from Piano Concerto No.4), Tchaikovsky (finale from Piano Concerto No.1) and Rachmaninov (18th Variation from the Paganini Rhapsody). These are at the very least a fair representation of his concerto output.

Among the other solo highlights are popular pieces – Schumann’s Traumerei, Liszt’s Liebestraum No.3 and Chopin’s Nocturne in D flat (Op.17 No.2), the latter two taken from his Carnegie Hall Recital. Someone at DG had the sense of excluding some of Lang Lang’s artistically objectionable moments – the first and third movements of Chopin’s Third Sonata (did he mistake Op.58 to be the Funeral March Sonata?), for example.

The bonus CD of “Rarities” is a mixed bag. The best 6 minutes are reserved for a lovely and vibrant performance of Beethoven’s Sonata in D major (Op.6) for four hands with veteran pianist-turned-conductor Christoph Eschenbach. Pity its only a work in two movements. The previously unreleased Rachmaninov Prelude in G minor (Op.23 No.5) and Liszt Petrarch Sonnet No.104 should have remained so – these needlessly self-indulgent performances display narcissism at its worst. In the former, his exaggerations of his teacher Gary Graffman’s accents (in his CBS / Sony recording) are a parody - simply perverse - while the latter is stretched to an interminable 9 minutes.

There are also several sound bites from soundtracks (The Banquet and The Painted Veil) and a totally forgettable collaboration with Andrea Bocelli. These will hold little interest to the serious pianophile. This Chinese phenom has certainly more talent than good taste. If only he'd put those genuine talents to better use.

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