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CD Review

Wolfgang Mozart

The Mozart Album

  • Piano Concerto #24 in C minor, K. 491
  • Piano Concerto #17 in G Major, K. 453
  • Piano Sonata #5 in G Major, K. 283
  • Piano Sonata #4 in E Flat Major, K. 282
  • Piano Sonata #8 in A minor, K. 310
  • March in C Major, K. 408
  • Piano Piece in F Major, K. 33b
  • Allegro for Piano in F Major, K. 1c
  • Rondo Alla Turca
Lang Lang, piano
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Concertos recorded in Vienna - April 14-17, 2014
Sonatas & Rondo Alla Turca recorded live in Royal Albert Hall, London, November 15-17, 2013
Other piano works recorded live at the Salle Colonne, Paris, May 18, 2014
Sony Classical 88843-08253-2 2CDs 122m
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Lang Lang treads onto territory traversed by many great pianists, including Brendel, Buchbinder, and Uchida, to name but three acclaimed Mozartians. In the concertos Lang tends to employee slightly slower tempos than most pianists, but is otherwise fairly mainstream in his approach. That is, he still manages to impart a spirited sense to the livelier music, his dynamics generally don't overwhelm the ear on the forte side, he conveys a pleasing elegance in his phrasing and insightfully captures both the serious and witty sides of Mozart.

Lang's account of #17 brims with vigor and sunshine in the first movement. His digital nimbleness allows much detail to emerge and while his tempos are moderate to slow, the music moves with a lightness and gracefulness that more than compensate for any loss of fleetness – fleetness often heard in other successful performances. The second movement Andante has a somewhat darker character in Lang's hands, especially in the interior sections where his slower tempos point up the sense of angst. The main theme in the finale has playful robustness in its bouncy yet slightly stiff gait. The last half of this movement brims with joy and contains some of the best playing on either disc. Nikolaus Harnoncourt draws magnificent playing from the Vienna Philharmonic.

The more serious #24 is appropriately darker both in Lang's finely imagined interpretation and in Harnoncourt's deft shaping of the orchestral score. Again, Lang conveys an elegance in his touch and overall is, I believe, a little more successful in this concerto, despite his slower tempos in the outer movements. The second movement is paced perfectly, it seems, and mixes a charming blend of playfulness and warmth, suaveness and elegance. As suggested, Harnoncourt again leads the Vienna Philharmonic with a knowing hand. The sound in both concertos is vivid and well balanced. While many will prefer to stick with Brendel, Perahia, Buchbinder, Uchida, or other previous favorites in these concertos, Lang and Harnoncourt offer effective and somewhat different takes on the music that should prove rewarding to many, maybe even most, listeners.

As for the sonatas and solo works Lang seems to take a slightly more muscular approach, or is it that the microphones are a bit closer? All are taken from live performances in London and Paris, as the heading indicates. Despite slightly more weighty dynamics, his sonata performances still convey both elegance and wit, not least because Lang generally phrases the music subtly and sensitively. True, there are patches where he can sound too straightforward or slightly stiff or foursquare. But such moments are rare, and though his tempos once again tend to be moderate to slow, he imparts plenty of vigor and color to the music.

What isn't moderate to slow is his account of the popular Rondo Alla Turca: fasten your seat belt for this performance as Lang turns in an utterly breathless account, his fingers racing all over the keyboard making you wonder how he can hit all the notes. But he does and it's quite thrilling! The March in C Major gets a fine performance and the two other items here, Piano Piece in F Major and Allegro for Piano in F Major, choice morsels (each lasting under a minute) from the young Mozart, are also nicely played. The sound in the live performances is good, though it varies very slightly from London to Paris. In sum, these are all fine performances that should interest any admirer of Mozart's piano music and, of course, fans of Lang Lang. Strongly recommended.

Copyright © 2014, Robert Cummings