LANG LANG IN RECITAL
Esplanade Concert Hall
Saturday (30 November 2013)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 2 December 2013 with the title "Lang Lang plays by his own rules".
Ever since his meteoric rise to fame and fortune over the last dozen years, Chinese pianist Lang Lang has polarised opinion among audiences and critics. One either adores or loathes him, but what is undeniable is his drawing power and ability to work a crowd.
Such was the gift of late classical superstars like pianist Vladimir Horowitz and tenor Luciano Pavarotti, who had their fair share of supporters and detractors. Lang’s solo recital, his second in Singapore, would provide more points of contention.
|The many faces of Lang Lang.|
The choice of three Mozart sonatas on a trot was unusual, and he was on his best behaviour. Well almost. In the early G major (K.283) and E flat major (K.282) sonatas, he coaxed a lovely cantabile aided by generous pedalling, which flowed like oil. By contrast, the dramatic A minor sonata (K.310) was driven with sheer single-mindedness, capped by a thrilling development to boot.
His tendency to linger in the slow movements and then race ahead in the finales highlighted extremes in contrasts. Exaggerating accents and phrases in unexpected places were ear-catching for certain, providing the twists and turns one would expect in a roller-coaster. At least these finales were well characterised, joyous in K.283, by turn comedic in K.282, and breathlessly urgent in K.310.
One marvelled at how relaxed and composed Lang was. He literally strolled on stage, raising his hands in acknowledgement of the audience, including those seated back in the choir gallery. He played seated far from the keyboard and leaned backwards a lot. His free hand would theatrically command a life of its own, as if conducting an imaginary orchestra in the air. Piano playing was without doubt another form of show business.
Chopin’s Four Ballades was fertile ground for more show-boating. Ballade No.1 swung like a pendulum between dawdling protractedness and furious prestidigitation. His facility to do as he pleased was the most striking feature. Much better were the middle pieces, the contrasts in Ballade No.2 were perfectly judged while the inner voices of Ballade No.3 were wonderfully realised.
Ballade No.4, arguably Chopin’s greatest essay, was a mirror image of the first. However the slow and gradual build-up had a purpose; the coda unwound furiously like a coiled spring for a brilliant grandstanding close. The audience erupted in feverish frenzy and a standing ovation, no doubt further stoked by two encores, played ridiculously fast.
|What a standing ovation looks like.|
Sebastian Vettel has nothing on Lang’s Mozart Turkish Rondo, and has Chopin Grand Waltz (Op.18) ever sounded this scintillating or vulgar? Conservatory students who play like this will be ask to desist or risk failure, but Lang Lang has become a law to his own. By this token, he deserves the epithet once applied to the unforgettable Horowitz. That is “unique”.
|Time to say goodbye.|
Photographs by the kind courtesy of Steinway Gallery Singapore, Singapore Symphonia Co.Ltd and S. Kol, Paris.