HAYDN: Sonata in E; RACHMANINOV: Sonata No 2; BRAHMS: Six Pieces, opus 118; TCHAIKOWSKY: Dumka, Nocturne in C sharp minor; BALAKIREV: Islamey
Telarc CD 80524
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Lang Lang’s debut recording – of a recital before an audience at Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood – marks him instantly as a classicist of unusual ability. A musician to his fingertips (no pun intended), his reading of Haydn’s Sonata in E, Hob XVI:31 is a model of its kind, lucid, cogent, exquisitely phrased: I hung on every note. So, too, I dare say, will anyone interested in poised, finely considered accounts of keyboard music of the classical era. A performance worthy of the highest praise, it makes for irresistible listening. At its most persuasive, Lang Lang’ pianism here is reminiscent of Lili Kraus at her best – and this is high praise.
Although only eighteen years old when he made this recording, his account of the Haydn work has a maturity of expression one more usually associates with an arrived master. Certainly, his performance sounds as if he was drawing on decades of musical experience. I very much admired, too, Lang Lang’s reading of Tchaikowsky’s Nocturne in C sharp minor, given a deeply expressive interpretation that allows its inherent simplicity to register meaningfully on the consciousness.
And while this young pianist gives a satisfactory performances of Rachmaninov’s sprawling Sonata in B flat minor (the slow movement was exquisitely introspective), he comes across primarily as a musician most at home in works of the classical era, less so in virtuoso vehicles such as Balakirev’s Islamey which lacks the drive and brilliance that others more suited to the genre such as, say, Horowitz, might bring to their playing. Brahms’ opus 118, six of the master’s miniature gems, is least persuasive; these mainly autumnal musings are entirely satisfactory in notational and tonal terms. But for all the beauty of nuance brought to bear on the music, the sunset, valedictory nature of much of the writing proved elusive, especially in the “Intermezzo in E flat minor”; Solomon’s breathtakingly insightful recording of the early 1950s still reigns supreme. Despite these reservations, there’s every reason, on the evidence of this recording (especially the Haydn sonata) to believe that in time this phenomenal young artist will be able successfully to plumb the expressive depths of opus 118. Hopefully, too, those responsible for such matters will encourage this exceptionally sensitive pianist to place more readings of Haydn – and Mozart – on disc.