Review: Lang Lang brings classical music to life in expressive performance
Lang Lang is not a musician known for subtlety — and all the pianist’s notorious flair, theatrics, and inimitable technical prowess were on clear display at the Abu Dhabi Festival.
A visceral sense of anticipation passed between the crowd at Emirates Palace on Thursday (April 14) night — not quite the eager adolescent chumping of a pop gig, but certainly a hunger-lust not normally associated with the staid classical concerts normally passing through the stage. Would the world’s greatest “classical rock star” live up to his own hype?
The evening opened with Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, a set of 12 character pieces representing the months of the year. Penned between 1875 and 1876 to appear serially in a monthly magazine, it was financial incentive rather than artistic will that inspired he set, which appears on recent recording Lang Lang in Paris.
But if The Seasons are the sound of a great composer writing to order, that fact alone is a testament to Tchaikovsky’s greatness. While the work moves between moods — at times seamlessly, at others with great, deliberate juxtaposition — the overarching tone is of pastoral reflection. Yet Lang Lang, 33, never misses a chance to insert extra drama, with sudden staccato piano stabs and head-rocking theatrics, revelling in the aura of romantic reflection.
After around 45 minutes of Tchaikovsky’s elegiac contemplation, the otherwise-appreciative audience appeared to bristle as the Chinese pianist moved straight onto Bach’s Italian Concerto. Taken here at a vertiginous breakneck pace, the baroque forefather’s typically mechanical formulations were perhaps too much for these weary, wanderlust-struck ears.
Lang Lang’s talents were on clearer display in the second half, dedicated to a chronological reading of Chopin’s four Scherzos, also captured on the pianist’s latest release. The form may take its name from the Italian for “I joke”, but the only thing funny about Lang Lang’s performance was, perhaps, the circus freak-show of his incomprehensible dexterity.
For the first time in the evening Lang Lang broke out in a sweat — reaching out for a towel at the end of the jaw-dropping second Scherzo, from 1837, best known for its iconic, thunderous, stop-start refrain. Among the best known composers for solo piano, Chopin’s enviable technical prowess and heart-wrenching sense of drama find a fitting home in Lang Lang. This was the foot-stomping, fringe-flopping, hand-contorting wunderkind we came to see — at the end of the third Scherzo, Lang Lang appears to punch the piano’s final, looming chords. Only the longer, fourth piece — composed, unlike its predecessors, from a state of domestic bliss in 1842, and the only one of the four in a major key — gave the pianist, or audience, a chance to catch their breath.
• The Abu Dhabi Festival continues with the Orchestre de Paris, performing at Emirates Palace on April 15 and 17. For information and tickets, from Dh125, see www.abudhabifestival.ae
Updated: April 15, 2016 04:00 AM