Thursday, March 10, 2005

Lang Lang Plays Rach 2 and the Rach Paganini Variations

I'm currently listening to the new Lang Lang CD. It's good, but nothing remarkable. It is mostly conventional, and it has some of Lang Lang's negative qualities as well as some of his arrestingly great one.

This may well be the most technically exact rendering on disc. The notes are so clear, the repeated notes and runs so sharp in this live performance, that one can only marvel at this supreme technician in a time of supreme technicians. But this razor-sharp execution sometimes works against Lang Lang, as it does in his rendition of Balakirev's Islamey, where a great showpiece came out sounding mechanical. Some passages in Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto sound lifeless, the antithesis of the awesome vitality which is Lang Lang's trademark in his best moments.

There are also some eccentricities; Lang Lang plays the opening chords of the Concerto at an extraordinarily deliberate pace, in an attempt to ratchet up the drama. But the effect fails because it is too calculated.

It is possible that Lang Lang, who at his worst can display a maudlin sentimentality, paid close attention to Rachmaninoff's own recording of the Second Concerto, which is quite simply the most unsentimental rendition of the work on record. But the genius of Rachmaninoff's own playing was Rachmaninoff was able to play with great vitality and drama without resorting to mannerisms and without the wide fluctuations in tempo that characterize Lang Lang's playing in this and the Tchaikovsky concerto. Lang Lang's Rach 2 avoids some of the excesses of his Tchaikovsky, but does not join the higher echelon of Rach 2 recordings with this effort. (The upper echelon is not that big. It includes, for me, Rachmaninoff himself, Artur Rubinstein, Jorge Bolet, and more recently, Evgeny Kissin and Helene Grimaud. Incidentally, Lang Lang need not fret; his Rach 3 is in the upper echelon of Rach 3 recordings, along with Horowitz, Van Cliburn, Lazar Berman, maybe Alexis Weissenberg, Arcadi Volodos, and a few others. Lang Lang's recording of Rach 3 was gorgeous, Berman's golden tone with Horowitz excitement.)

The Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini was better. Here, Lang Lang invested the music with much more drama, and Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theater Orchestra provided especially vivid accompaniment. Lang Lang is bumming around New York playing the Rhapsody this week with the China Philharmonic. Here, the Twenty-Second Variation, an alla breve was especially memorable, a great example of Lang Lang's ability to exite and electrify the listener.

It is not on the level of the Rachmaninoff recording, but no recording I've heard is.


At 4:06 PM, Blogger laurenbove said...

Oooh, I must check that out. I love classical music. Used to play the piano but haven't in so long.


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