This is the third Liszt disc I've reviewed at ClassicalNet in the last half year or so. The other two were recitals by Khatia Buniatishvili (Sony) and Lise de la Salle (Naïve), and both were exceedingly excellent efforts. This new disc by superstar pianist Lang Lang features him as a soloist in the First Concerto and as a recitalist in nine Liszt pieces. Clearly, Lang has chosen mostly warhorse works by Liszt, and thus his selections could be of less interest to certain keyboard mavens. But apparently this is music that Lang likes. And he plays it well – in fact, in this kind of flashy repertory he has few peers.
Lang's La Campanella and Grand Galop chromatique are played with as much gusto and spirit as you're likely to encounter. And his Liebestraum #3, surely the most popular Liszt piece – and possibly the most maligned – is delivered with conviction and a real sense that this is great music. His detractors may call him "Bang Bang", but you can't fault Lang for his utter sincerity in this sweetly gentle piece.
Lang delivers the Hungarian Rhapsody #6 with a deft sense for its folkish character and Liszt's grasp of color and virtuosity. The closing rapid-fire octaves are played with dazzle, yet not just for showmanship as the listener is taken by the deft mixture of mischievousness and bravura. The ensuing Un Sospiro, certainly among the better of Liszt's popular pieces, is beautifully played, coming across with a similar lyrical character here as heard in the Liebestraum #3.
Lang plays the Horowitz version of Hungarian Rhapsody #15, and it's hard to fathom why he didn't just play the original as Liszt conceived it – the composer is, after all, Lang's hero! I personally don't care for the Horowitz version of anything. He may have been a great pianist, but his meddling in various piano works generally lowered their quality. At any rate, Lang's performance here is a good one, well worth your while if you like this Horowitz version. The other solo pieces on the disc are also well played.
The Liszt First Piano Concerto is given a fairly straightforward treatment by Lang, though he dawdles a bit over the slow lyrical theme in the middle section of the first movement, as well as the opening of the second movement. His dynamics sometimes drop to too low a level in a few places, but are otherwise fine. His technique, of course, here and in the solo works is spectacularly all-encompassing.
To bring off the Liszt First, a pianist must deliver the goods in the last half of the second movement (when you first hear the triangles) and the finale. Liszt certainly produced some of his most colorful writing in the latter half of the concerto and Lang abundantly captures the dynamism, menace (the concerto's opening theme turns darker), bravura, and brilliance. His performance may not effervesce quite like Rubinstein's or dazzle like Argerich's, but in its own way it is convincing. Valery Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic abet him with committed and accurate playing and Sony's sound is excellent throughout. This disc must be counted among Lang's stronger offerings.
Copyright © 2011, Robert Cummings