Words by Jonathan Glen / Pics by Steve Thorne & external sources
Performing: Mozart Piano Sonatas 5, 4 & 8 / Chopin Ballades 1, 2, 3 & 4
It can’t be easy walking out on stage as ‘one of the world’s greatest pianists’. Having the knowledge that if this is not the best performance the audience has ever heard, they may just be a bit disappointed.
The lone piano on stage in the vast Symphony Hall, before the music even starts, is a metaphor for the solitude of tonight’s performer – singled out under the spotlight. But if this does go through the head of Chinese born pianist Lang Lang then you certainly wouldn’t know it. After all, this is a man who played an anti-American song at the White House.
Lang Lang begins his night by casually picking up an honorary doctorate from Birmingham City University for his work with teaching students around the world.
After much congratulation from both sides Lang Lang gets down to what he does best, immediately displaying the playful movements that have seen him be compared to his musical hero, virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt. His body echoes the tempo and mood of the music, occasionally he looks wistfully into the audience, almost saying, isn’t this music beautiful? Such is his love for playing.
The night begins with three of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s piano sonatas. First up is Sonata No. 5, a wonderfully eclectic piece which begins light-heartedly before becoming richer and more romantic. Lang Lang swoons from his piano ostentatiously, his famous behaviour occasionally verges on ridiculous though you know he feels every keystroke. It appears all too easy for him as he goes up and down the gears, soft melodies are left behind as he is off to the races with such speed and power it’s a wonder he doesn’t break more pianos.
The second Mozart piece is Sonata No.4, opening with much melancholy – our star seems to be signing some unknown lyrics to its touching melody. Though this piece becomes more jovial it never loses focus, as its builds its tempo and aggression Lang Lang runs through his set stock of vigorous gestures.
Sonata No. 8 begins with a pacy allegro, the majestic low minor notes building to a fantastic crescendo as Lang Lang stares to the heavens as though the music were helping him find nirvana. The piece is perfect for his bombastic style though his magical fingers are perfect for every tone, light as air or heavy as iron.
After a short interval Lang Lang is back in front of the piano, this time taking on Chopin’s Ballades. No.1 has a sumptuous, off-kilter melody that is distinctively Chopin; the loneliness and sorrow of the composers time in Vienna is conveyed in piercing notes of sadness.
Ballade No.2 has none of the punch of the first piece, though it comes to life a little way in. Though there may have been a hint of a mistake during this piece, and you get the feeling that Lang Lang’s supreme confidence masks potential errors. Ballade No.2 has always been criticised in comparison with the others and it is easy to hear why as it plays out.
Ballade No.3 is an incredibly intricate piece, very rarely delicate. It is harsh and raucous, suiting Lang Lang perfectly as he gesticulates wildly. The contrast going in to Ballade No.4 is stark; a joyous, soft piece, and a favourite of this Chopin loving reviewer. Lang Lang plays out one of the most beautiful melodies of the night, though is perhaps a touch too effusive in the up tempo finale.
It is hard to criticise Lang Lang in any way, he is note perfect playing some delightfully complex pieces and his love for playing them is infectious. He is greeted with a standing ovation before throwing in two encores, one of which, a Chinese piece named ‘Seaweed’, is one of the highlights of the night with a melody of such grace it seems to soar into the rafters of this great Symphony Hall.
And with the equally imposing accolade that surrounds tonight’s pianist and performer, Lang Lang more than fulfills the promise. Long may he long continue to grace this and other stages.
For more about Lang Lang, visit http://langlang.com/
For further listings from the Town & Symphony Halls, visit http://www.thsh.co.uk/