Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3; Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 2
These two high-voltage concertos from the first half of the 20th century seem tailor-made for the dynamic talents of Lang Lang. But the Prokofiev to my mind offers the more convincing performance. For one thing, Lang Lang has the necessary power and athleticism to bring tremendous energy and drive to the composer’s more motoric writing, and the concluding passages of both the first and third movements have thrilling impact, supported in this vivid recording by incisive and rhythmically tight ensemble from Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. At the same time, the pianist is able to encapsulate a more lyrical style of playing, beautifully characterised for example in the dreamy nocturnal fourth variation of the central movement. What perhaps is less apparent is the composer’s sense of daredevilry and mischief, ingredients which are more compellingly projected in the classic accounts from Martha Argerich (DG) and Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca).
The Bartók has earned the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging works in the concerto repertoire. Certainly its fearsome difficulties hold no terrors for Lang Lang who sails through the passagework with exemplary clarity and rhythmic dynamism. The problem in the outer movements rests with the pianist’s tendency to make everything sound harsh and percussive, when in fact the composer asks for a much more varied tonal palette which enables the music to sound playful rather than relentless. It’s these qualities that make Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s recording of the same work on Chandos a far more invigorating experience.