Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Sublime Way with a Steinway: Lang Lang Shines in Lyric Recital, At Least (to a Neophyte) When He Really Lets Loose -- Chicago Classical Review

Classical Review

Lang Lang
solo piano recital
Lyric Opera of Chicago
May 9, 2015

"Tomorrow is a special day," Lang Lang reminded the full house from the stage of the Lyric Opera Saturday night.

"It's Mother's Day."

And the Chinese piano prodigy, now a month from turning 32 and seemingly the world's preeminent concert pianist, beamed when he pointed out that his mother was in the crowd.

I don't know quite how rare a happenstance this is, but shortly after acknowledging her near the end of almost 2 full hours onstage, alone with a Steinway piano, Lang Lang delivered a mirthful take on a piece I recognized.

Or thought I did. 

I initially thought it may be something by Mozart, perhaps the piano melody of his 40th Symphony, but then I assumed it to be Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee."

But the following morning, I'm now again not sure, which clearly illustrates how little I know about classical music. (Note: Thanks to John von Rhein's review in the Chicago Tribune, I now know the piece to have been, "Rondo alla Turca" from Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K.331.)

Without any acuity to assess Lang Lang's technique, tonality, clarity or anything else true aficionados might use to compare one rarefied world-class pianist against another, this review reflects merely my own sense of enjoyment and entertainment, not a technical critique.

And as I've often written, when it comes to types of musical virtuosity for which I have fond but far from thorough appreciation, I am typically most dazzled by sequences performed loud and fast.

Thus, while I certainly enjoyed Lang Lang's playing from the moment he walked onstage, in performing Tchaikovsky's The Seasons--12 short pieces more aptly titled The Months--and even Bach's Italian Concerto BMV 971 in F Major, I didn't sense enough "OMG!" gasp-inducing flourishes for my neophyte mind to be blown.

At least not comparably to my recollection of hearing Evgeny Kissin play with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or even demonstrably more impressive than top-notch college students or other great but not Lang Lang-level pianists.

Attending the recital with my friend Paolo, who sees many more classical performances than I do, he intimated being able to appreciate emotion and nuance in Lang Lang's playing that he sensed to be superior to other pianists he heard.

I certainly couldn't argue that point, nor assess how well the artist interpreted each piece he played, but at intermission--which followed a couple unlisted works that I certainly couldn't identify--I would have bestowed @@@@ (out of 5), perhaps reflecting a muted level of amazement and relative entertainment value rather than any astute performance critique.

But although Lang Lang's solo recital undoubtedly brought genuine piano aficionados--and even musicians--out in force to the Lyric, perhaps able to better gauge the brilliance in his subtleties, there also were likely a good number of classical music dilettantes like me, looking to be dazzled by perhaps the most famous artist of his ilk.

Thus, I'm pleased to report--at least for other like-minded rubes--that Lang Lang did dazzle the heck out of me after intermission, with Chopin's Four Scherzos as the listed piece, but clearly several others played in addition (if not even in lieu, as the order and timing of listed pieces became a bit confusing).

Other than the one piece I still can't precisely identify, I didn't know what I was hearing, I just liked it (accompanied by two video screens showing close-ups of Lang Lang's hands on the keyboard).

As regular readers of this blog should clearly know, I go to a lot of shows, most typically in a rock 'n roll, musical theater or dramatic realm. But I admire, even relish, virtuosity in virtually any vein, and have made a point of seeing jazz and classical greats like Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Itzhak Perman, Yo-Yo Ma, Pinchas Zuckerman, Yefim Bronfman and Evgeny Kissin, as well as phenomenal tap dancer, Savion Glover.

I had never seen Lang Lang despite numerous appearances in the Chicago area over the years, and am glad a Saturday night recital at the Lyric finally gave me a workable opportunity.

And even if my expectation of being quite acutely and obviously astonished, amazed and enthralled was rather superficial in the sense of artistic exploration, I can't deny being pleased that it was--ultimately--fulfilled.

To end with a bad pun reflective of proper pronunciation, I think it may be a Lang Lang time before I see another pianist quite so remarkable.

Even if it took me until the second half of the performance to realize it. 

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