WORKS: Hungarian Rhapsodies Nos 6 & 15; Liebestraum; Grand galop chromatique; La campanella; Ave Maria; Piano Concerto No. 1 etc
PERFORMER: Lang Lang (piano); Vienna Philharmonic/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: Sony 88697891402
I want to like this release. Lang Lang has become such a punching-bag for the high-minded (a band of which I sometimes, guiltily, count myself a member) that his very real gifts and considerable accomplishments have often been ignored. His virtuosity may lack the subtlety, discipline and judgment of the truly great, but it’s impressive. His approach to the piano is predominantly affectionate and respectful. While capable of producing massive sounds, he very seldom loses tonal control; indeed, his tone is frequently seductive. His melodic contours are generally curvaceous and vocally inflected. And yet, I feel a pervasive sense of disappointment – less so in the Concerto – when listening to the present, excellently planned recital.
I find a fragmentary, unbreathing quality in his rhythms, which too often fail to cohere and develop into larger, interconnected phrases. I find too much sequence and too little consequence. I hear repetition, at varying dynamic levels, but little variety, let alone a sense of cause and effect; the sheer sectionality of La campanella, for instance, precludes the excitement and coquettish bravura that have made this piece so eternally popular. The lack of rhythmic architecture in the Hungarian Rhapsodies, likewise, saps them of their showbizzy panache. The music emerges flat and cheap (tastelessness unredeemed by the requisite vulgarity). Liszt famously pioneered the transformation of themes. Yet, to me, it is precisely the lack of transformational alchemy that renders this clearly heartfelt celebration so ultimately frustrating. Jeremy Siepmann