Sunday, 7 September 2008

Lang Lang @ Singapore Sun Festival 2007: Review

30 October 2007 / Esplanade Concert Hall

An edited version of this review appeared in The Straits Times on 2 Nov 2007.

Whatever one might think of the phenomenon called Lang Lang, there is no denying that the 25-year-old Chinese pianist oozes oodles of charisma, and is blessed with a technique that many a conservatory student would kill for. In the final concert of the Singapore Sun Festival, he stirred a capacity audience - some of whom paid $258 for a ticket - into a wild frenzy.

For three quarters of the recital, he kept his over-the-top personality and temperament in check. Even then, the outcome was largely impressive. His reading of Mozart's Sonata in C major (K.330) was musical and crisp, as if freshly minted. There were no willful distractions from the score, and the music's unadorned simplicity was allowed to shine through.

There was fire and passion in Chopin's Third Sonata in B minor (Op.58), which he completed within the half hour, shaving a massive 8 minutes off his over-indulgent and narcissistic recording on Deutsche Grammophon. The meditative slow movement sagged a little but this was more than made up with a swashbuckling finale of raw and elemental energy.

Lang's view of Schumann's Scenes from Childhood mixed tenderness and wide-eyed innocence with big gestures that might have served larger works like Carnaval and Kreisleriana better. Nevertheless he coaxed a wider range of colours than thought possible, with the familiar Träumerei (Dreaming) wonderfully inflected.

And with a flick of a switch, the irrepressible Lang Lang that the baying multitudes yearned to witness returned with a vengeance. Two Rachmaninov Préludes (B flat major and G minor) from Op.23 were impossibly mannered, and made to sound like some cheap party trick. Then it was Horowitz simulation time, with every mannerism that the Russian legend adopted in Liszt's Petrarch Sonnet No. 104 replicated and magnified.

Horowitz's totally vulgar rewriting of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 was the perfect vehicle for shameless showboating and all form of excess. Lang Lang was completely in his element here, and never missing a treat, the audience lapped it up with the bloodlust of the Circus Maximus.

Three Chinese songs transcriptions - sensitively and idiomatically played - illuminated yet another vista to this provocative musician-as-celebrity. As a showman and entertainer, Lang Lang has hit the big time, but as an artist and interpreter (one thinks of Fou Ts'ong or Mitsuko Uchida, just to name two Asian pianists), his long journey continues.

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