Watching “Lang Lang: Live at Carnegie Hall” on DVD was my
first real exposure to this young Chinese pianist whom I’d
heard so much about, over the past several years. Until now,
I’d only heard snippets of his playing, here and there. I certainly
could have picked a worse place to start.
This November 7, 2003 recital was Lang Lang’s Carnegie Hall
debut, and I was impressed with what I heard. His generous
103-minute program consisted of both well and lesser known
piano repertoire, which he played as though he was a seasoned
veteran, well beyond his age of twenty-one years at that time.
In fact, he seemed like a throwback to the “grand tradition” of
piano playing, which was more of the norm during the early
part of the 20th Century.
Lang Lang’s program opened with Robert Schumann’s
“Abegg Variations, Opus 1,” performed with mind-blowing
virtuosity, while not slighting the poetic elements that were
so important in the music of this quintessentially romantic
composer. This piece was followed by Franz Josef Haydn’s
“Sonata in C Major, HOBXVI/50.”
His playing worked, conveying the sensitive nuances of each
piece, without seeming too affected. Still, there were probably
those in attendance at this recital who may have opined that
Lang Lang pulled the tempo about a bit in certain pieces,
and possibly “milked” it too much. Yet his sense of discovery
while playing, as if hearing the music spontaneously created
for the first time, was breathtaking to behold. He also wore
his emotions on his face, sometimes to the point of distraction!
Nevertheless, I didn’t feel as though this was an act, and the
sensitivity of his playing throughout the recital rendered these
issues as moot.
And his virtuosity! When he played the “Don Juan Fantasy” of
Franz Liszt during the second half of the program, it struck me
as the perfect balance of musicality and bravura, both of which
this 18-minute piece requires in spades. It was absolutely
stunning, as was his bravura rendition of Franz Schubert’s
“Wanderer Fantasy,” played during the first part of the
program. As it is probably Schubert’s most overtly “virtuosic”
piano piece, I thought it worked well. An interesting
comparison would be with Alfred Brendel’s more studied,
but no less valid approach.
The inclusion of Tan Dun’s “Eight Memories in Watercolor,
Opus 1,” provided a nice contrast to the predominantly
Austro-German flavor of the recital. When interviewed on
the bonus features of this disc, Lang Lang recounted that
when Tan Dun heard him perform these pieces, the composer
dedicated them to the pianist, even though they were written
a few years before he was born.
Another nice bit of cultural “cross-pollination” occurred
when Lang Lang’s father, Lang Guoren, joined him on stage
during the recital encores to perform three pieces arranged
by the duo for piano and erhu, a traditional two-string,
Chinese instrument. The other two encores were Schumann’s
“Träumerei” and Liszt’s equally well known “Liebesträume, No. 3.”
The roughly 34 minutes of bonus features primarily consisted
of Lang Lang giving his thoughts on various topics, ranging
from playing in Carnegie Hall to performing Haydn, Schubert
and Tan Dun. Footage of his early years was also included,
as well as his more recent work with young children, which he
considered to be very important. In addition, other Deutsche
Grammophon promotional material is a part of this handsome
This is a truly auspicious debut recital from an extremely
talented young musician who is clearly “feeling his oats” and
loving every minute of it. I’m looking forward to learning about
the development of Lang Lang’s career, since this recital.
This excellently filmed and recorded DVD was released in
2004, and I highly recommend it.