WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor; Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor
PERFORMER: Lang Lang (piano); Chicago SO/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: 474 291-2
The considerable finesse notwithstanding, Lang Lang’s much-vaunted debut for DG proves to be more problematic than satisfying; ultimately neither performance comes close to challenging front-rank choices such as Serkin and Argerich.
The Tchaikovsky opens at a broad tempo that soon courts lethargy rather than grandeur; Barenboim’s apparent determination to create a long-breathed, organic conception leaves Lang Lang struggling to sustain musical tension over whole paragraphs. Some of the pianist’s detailing is imaginative and effective – his zealous talent for shaping the music’s surface is indisputable – yet the almost constant desire to tweak textures can generate results that sound more cosmetic than authoritative; the Concerto demands resolute advocacy, not the cute ministrations of a beautician. The overall effect is episodic, particularly given the often flaccid conducting (orchestral tenutos rampant), with the first movement feeling even longer than its 23 minutes. The outer sections of the slow movement wilt at a languid tempo, but the pianist is able to take flight in the arabesques of the central ‘waltz-scherzo’ and the last movement’s festive, often rumbustious exclamations.
The Mendelssohn has its moments of glibness, yet also finds Lang Lang delighting in witty pointing of phrases and darting contrasts of leggiero articulation. There’s some shortage of the requisite fire in the outer movements, but a sense of affection and introspective calm in the second. Sadly, the orchestra again sounds flabby much of the time, the thick textures detracting from the work’s essential compactness and vitality (and clouding the slow movement’s soaring cello and viola lines). The recorded sound is warm, but thins above forte. Michael Glover