Thursday, 7 October 2010

SSO Concert: Lang Lang Gala / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Tuesday (5 October 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 7 October 2010.

First things first. The Singapore Symphony Orchestra led by Shui Lan performed a first half on its own, beginning with Mendelssohn’s The Fair Melusina Overture. Here, fine clarinet and flute solos heralded a fluid introduction, leading to a fiery and passionate Allegro, which impressed with its tautness and drive.

Glorious strings then sang in Leopold Stokowski’s transcription of Bach’s Air on G String, a loving performance befitting its dedication to the memory of Mrs Lee Kuan Yew (left), a longtime SSO Friend and supporter. A solid reading of Brahms’ Haydn Variations closed the first part, and there was an air of expectancy that awaited the second half’s “main event”.

Love him or hate him, Lang Lang has oodles of charisma to burn. The charm offensive began with his entrance, cheered on by a full house that overflowed into the galleries. Beethoven’s youthful First Piano Concerto seemed the ideal vehicle, after all the German was the same age (about 27) as the Chinese phenom when he wrote it.

However there was little room for boring old Ludwig, as this was to be Lang’s personalised version, down to the last note. From the piano’s entry, the upper register sounded tinny, and within minutes, a string or two snapped, as if protesting against what was about to transpire. For the rest of the concert, the instrument hovered between normality and the surreal shimmer of Margaret Leng Tan’s prepared piano.
Idiosyncrasy, mannerism and tai chi movements are all part of the Lang arsenal, and he initially tread the line between good taste and self-indulgence. By the 1st movement cadenza, which appeared more choreographed than played, he crossed it and never looked back.

Never content with just reading the notes, every phrase was fussed over and tinkered upon, with accents thickly laid on for maximum ear-catching effect. The finale’s jocular second subject soon began to sound like some Brazilian samba.

Someday there should be an advisory to all music students for all of Lang’s concerts. Play like this and you WILL fail your piano exams. As it is, Lang’s pianism is a law to his own. Like Vladimir Horowitz, who was once described by a critic as “a master of musical distortion”, there will never be another pianist like him.
Encore time!

Despite enchanting and infuriating with every turn, there was – to Lang’s credit - not a dull moment to be had. As if the resultant applause was not vociferous enough, he threw kisses in all directions and dealt two encores. The precipitous finale of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata erupted with devastating panache; then the audience roared its approval and leapt on its feet. Mission accomplished.
Lang Lang salutes his legion of fans.
By this time, the Esplanade staff had stopped
stopping people from taking photographs

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