Concert Review | Lang Lang and Frühbeck teach old warhorse new tricks
Famed pianist gives moving performance at Symphony Hall
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 06:03
On March 1, a man wearing a casual v−neck t−shirt underneath a blazer strolled onto the stage of a packed Symphony Hall. He was immediately received with thunderous applause anticipating the upcoming performance. This man was none other than pianist Lang Lang, who at the age of 30 has become the most famous classical musician alive.
To enumerate his recognitions and achievements would spare no room for review of the concert. He is perhaps the only pianist capable of performing a sold out concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London — which has a capacity of approximately 5,544 people.
In a profession that calls for undivided dedication and instinctive talent, the lot of performing concert pianists already consists of, to put it tactfully, rather unique people. Still, to call Lang Lang eccentric would be an understatement. His superfluous hand gestures, body movement and facial expressions have been a target for critics all over the world. Luckily, his performance shall be the topic of review today.
In a program consisting of Hindemith’s “Konzertmusik” for Strings and Brass op. 50, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor, op. 15 and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, the Boston Symphony managed to sandwich Rachmaninoff’s warhorse between two much less frequently−heard pieces.
At the start of the performance, guest conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos hobbled onto the stage and sat on a swivel chair resting on the conductor’s podium. Whatever physiological age he exhibited walking to the podium was immediately masked by the vitality with which he was able to conduct the Boston Symphony for the difficult but powerful “Konzertmusik.”
The “Konzertmusik” was scored for four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, a tuba and strings. It opened with a full−on display of brass, as if to greet the audience. The strings quickly leapt and danced over a radiant brass section. With strategic swiveling action, Frühbeck and the orchestra handled this devilishly difficult piece with finesse. Frühbeck’s conducting was sharp. To see such a frantic and virtuoso piece performed in so unified a manner was impressive for a conductor of any age.
The performance was remarkably expressive to boot. At the end of the first movement, the performers were able to capture a slithering string theme that was downright sinister. Then, at a moment’s notice, the mood changed. The evil theme was directly followed by a hastening second movement that quickly emerged as a crisp fugue. The unpredictable interplay between brass and strings made the piece exciting and interesting to listen to. In all, there was little room for criticism in Frühbeck’s performance of the Hindemith with the Boston Symphony.
Lang Lang did not disappoint either. He gave an imaginative interpretation of the often heard second Piano Concerto. He used quite a bit of rubato and varied the tempo greatly. At times, it may have been difficult for the orchestra to follow his irregular pace. Most times though, Frühbeck followed Lang Lang well, even during quick changes in dynamics.
Lang Lang also made it a point to hammer out the bass. In the piano’s opening arpeggios that accompany the main theme that is presented by the orchestra, the bass rung through the entire orchestra. With every classical pianist having his own recording of the 2nd piano concerto, that frankly is not usually too different from one another, Lang Lang’s performance added a new dimension.
The haunting second movement had but one issue. Though the hammering of the bass was welcome in the first movement, the excessive use of bass in the second movement distracted the music from the oboe and flute melody. Left hand aside, Lang Lang performed a lyrical 2nd movement with the piano resembling an opera singer singing an aria at times.
The virtuoso 3rd movement presented little challenge for the chops of Lang Lang. Again, his phrasing was unique. In the tender second theme, Lang Lang wrought a heartbreaking melody. His treatment of the theme was exceptional. Lang Lang’s generous use of rubato made it seem almost improvisational. The famous return of this theme concluded the piece in an enormous orchestral tutti where the pianist is asked to play over the orchestra. Rachmaninoff himself was famous for being able to do this. The acoustics of Symphony Hall helped Lang Lang in this manner as the cadence brought the audience to its feet.
Lang Lang can be showy, bold — maybe even risky. He is, however, never boring in his playing. Though not without its problems, his performance of the Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto with conductor Frühbeck was original and moving.