BEETHOVEN Piano Concertos 1+4 / Lang Lang

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LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

Piano Concertos
Klavierkonzerte
Nos. 1 + 4
Lang Lang
Orchestre de Paris
Christoph Eschenbach
Int. Release 18 May. 2007
1 CD + 1 DVD
0289 477 6719 02 1 CD + 1 DVD DDD GH2
Lang Lang records his first-ever Beethoven album


Track List

CD 1: Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 4

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Piano Concerto No.1 in C major, Op.15

2.
0:00
11:26

Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58

Lang Lang, Orchestre de Paris, Christoph Eschenbach

Total Playing Time 1:14:15

DVD 2: Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 4

Lang Lang, Orchestre de Paris, Christoph Eschenbach

Lang Lang

Christoph Eschenbach, Lang Lang

Total Playing Time 21:57

With crystalline technique, Lang finds the joyful heart of the First Concerto, playing with rhythmic precision and a bold, forthright tone in the faster outer movements while adopting a lovely singing quality in the beautiful Largo . . . Lang and conductor Christoph Eschenbach have forged a close working relationship, and the two are in complete accord here, investing this magnificent music with color, intensity, and a sense of exhilaration that grabs you by the ears.

What a beautiful recording! . . . The First Concerto is played with lightness and bounce in the outer movements and is as tuneful as imaginable in the stunning second movement's Largo. The Fourth Concerto is a whole other matter ¿ mature Beethoven ¿ and Lang rises easily to the occasion, playing with potency and handsome tone. The first movement makes us sit and admire his skill, and he is poetic and sensitive in the second movement. It would have been easy for him to run away with the final movement in a blaze of virtuosity, but he sticks to its classical outlines. These are superb performances, and the sonics are gloriously rich.

In this Beethoven disc (Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 4) you could predict that his playing of the first concerto would be crisp and jumpy with a first-movement cadenza that rocks. All true. And that's just what this concerto needs. His young man's approach to the deeper Piano Concerto No. 4 works . . . There's a welcome, wide-eyed awareness of the music's greatness with playing that aspires to a lofty beauty. Lang Lang is also out to vary the articulation of every phrase (a good thing) . . . His pianissimos have a youthful earnestness . . . Technically, he plays with admirable force and color that has only come about in recent years. Eschenbach's elegant influence is most felt in the second movement's Zen-like confrontation between piano and orchestra . . .

What a beautiful recording! . . . These are superb performances, and the sonics are gloriously rich.

Lang Lang is more than merely the usual media invention. Here is a gifted virtuoso, strutting his stylish stuff in music from Liszt to Mozart, Chopin to Tchaikovsky, Haydn to Schumann . . . it may just inspire your youngster to get back to his or her lessons.

The sound quality is very good throughout and the piano tone is well detailed . . .

Mr. Eschenbach and the orchestra start out, and they are crisp, alert, and robust. Then, when Lang Lang comes in, he is as you might expect him to be: interesting, assured -- super-assured -- and imaginative . . . Lang Lang, as you know, has loads of talent, and one of his chief qualities is playfulness . . . Mr. Eschenbach is admirable throughout. Lang Lang's . . . admirable throughout the album, both concertos . . . his impetuosity and musicality -- his talent and joie de vivre -- win the day . . . a lot of good playing on this album.

This new CD is Lang's first recorded brush with Beethoven, and it is a success . . . The first movement is given plenty of room, with the piano's opening solo handsomely played and a temperate attitude throughout. One admires his skill without his doing anything particularly flashy. The interchange between piano and strings in the middle movement (symbolic of Orpheus taming the Furies, claimed Franz Liszt) is excellent . . . the movement itself is spirited, carefree, and invigorating, with runs tossed off as if they were easy. Lang keeps the rhythmic line perfectly, again without showing off. At times in this concerto, he seems to be keeping his grand personality out of the music on purpose to avoid being criticized for the hated "showmanship." I would have liked to hear more of him. The First Concerto is more aggressively played, in a terrific performance. One of the most exciting things about Lang Lang is that when he plays softly and lyrically, he doesn't sound as if he's holding back; when he opts to stomp and yell, it sounds equally natural. Here he plays with lightness and bounce in the outer movements; the trills in the first movement are absolutely gorgeous, and the finale is filled with energy. The second movement is as tuneful as imaginable, and Lang clearly recognizes Beethoven's debts to Mozart and Haydn. The recording itself is excellent, with the balance only slightly favoring Lang and utter clarity throughout. Conductor Christoph Eschenbach is a true partner in the proceedings . . . He gets beautiful, flavorful playing from the Orchestre de Paris, and leads them with the same sensitivity to dynamics that Lang brings to the piano part. In short, these are beautifully realized readings by a brilliant young pianist.

. . . these Beethoven concertos are mostly idiomatic and stylish. There is some delightful playing in both works. Lang Lang is at his best in the slow movements, where his range of colour and articulation illustrates his all-encompassing technical command and sense of both elegance and pathos. The dialogue of the Fourth Concerto's Andante is especially touching: Lang Lang's emotional poise is superbly judged while Eschenbach's Parisian orchestra give solid support. The outer movements have infectious energy . . . In the Fourth, there are exquisite moments of delicacy . . . The sound is excellent . . .

[Rabinowitz]: His fingerwork became . . . even more polished . . . These are . . . upbeat and extroverted performances, sharp in contour, kaleidoscopic in color, bold in contrasts . . . the give-and-take between soloist and orchestra is exceptional . . . he's a significant contender, even in a very crowded catalog, and anyone who loves this music or who wants to hear what Lang can do when he's at his best should find it a welcome addition to their collections. Warmly recommended.
[Rucker]: Every time I've seen Lang interviewed on camera, he impressed as modest, self-effacing, and obviously consumed by his love of music. His English is superb and, one feels, equal to all that he would like to express . . . his perspicacity is striking . . . I don't know that I've ever heard a recording of any piano concerto given greater technical attention than has obviously been lavished on this one. To begin with, one needn't see them interviewed to feel the mutual esteem in which Lang and Eschenbach hold one another: it's audible in their combine music-making. The sound engineers have spared nothing in their efforts to capture the luxurious sound of the orchestra. They've succeeded so well that the sonic result, recorded at the Salle Pleyel this past January, seems almost surreal. Lang's Steinway is exquisitely conveyed in all its variegated colors and the balance with the orchestra is a marvel. His playing is dazzling, every run startlingly clear, every ornament a jewel. It is piano-lying of pointilistic perfection. Sound, ensemble, execution, unity on intent, unassailably great music: each category rates a superlative.

. . . the pianist reaches a musical and pianistic maturity that may well mark a turning point in his . . . career . . . Both of these much-recorded concertos emerge freshly minted in idiosyncratic, highly polished performances of real distinction. Moreover, they are crisply recorded in the newly refurbished Salle Pleyel and accompanied by Christoph Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris with complete empathy. The Piano Concerto No. 1 is treated not as a delicate work influenced by late Haydn but as a challenging, robust paradigm of a new era; the finale bubbles with confidence and brio . . . there's no denying the exciting spontaneity of the two protagonists -- with compelling results.

. . . Lang Lang's genuinely poetic and perceptive moments should not go unnoticed: for example, his pliable phrasing in both first-movement development sections, and his equanimous responses to the orchestra's insistent outbursts in the Fourth's slow movement. He gives a breezy, well planned account of No. 1's longest first-movement cadenza . . .

. . . there are numerous moments in these performances with Eschenbach¿s Orchestre de Paris where his emotional instincts, married to his flawless piano technique, generate sounds of wonder. Slow movements in both concertos shimmer with meditative beauties of phrasing and rubato . . . try No 1¿s opening allegro -- awesomely clear arpeggios, a subtle variety in tone and attractive playing . . . Lang is an artist . . . with great gifts.

No 1's opening allegro has an apt swaggering brilliance, but also moments of real poetry, and both slow movements are poised and subtly coloured, with a vivid sense of theatrical dialogue in No 4.

These Beethoven concertos are mostly idiomatic and stylish [and] there is some delightful playing in both works.

. . . spielen kann er. Und zwar nicht nur die blanken Noten.

Unbestreitbar ist Lang Lang ein Jahrhunderttalent . . . Die Leichtigkeit, mit der er alle Nuancen des Pianistischen beherrscht, macht ihn zu einer Ausnahmeerscheinung. Er ist in der Lage, jegliche Pointierung zu erreichen, jegliche Farbe sensibel zu erzeugen, die ein moderner Flügel wiederzugeben vermag . . . hier zeigt er das, was ihn auszeichnet: eine Musizierfreiheit und musikalische Imagination, die berauscht, die ihn zu dem besonderen Pianisten hat werden lassen, der er heute ist: mit Publikumseffekt aufzuspielen wie in alten Zeiten. Und dabei weiß Lang Lang in jedem Fall dieses Konzert mit einer Frische und mit Leben zu füllen . . . es ist ein Fest für die Ohren, ein junger, ja jugendlicher Beethoven . . . Und Eschenbach folgt mit seinem Orchester derartig flexibel und punktgenau, dass es eine Freude ist. Und ebenso brillieren die Musiker gemeinsam in dem wenig im Konzertsaal gespielten Konzert Nr. 4. Wie Lang Lang die Architektonik des langen 1. Satzes greift und begreift, ist famos, denn auch hier zeigt sich sein Talent: Auch hier finden sich Akzente, die so nicht ganz gedacht sind, die aber in der Gesamtaussage faszinieren. Mit einem Wort: Lang Lang berauscht mit seiner pianistischen Leistung ebenso wie mit seiner frischen Sichtweise auf diese so oft gehörten Werke, immer absolut bewusst, was er da tut. Und beweist damit, dass er eines der großen Klaviertalente ist, für das ihn das Publikum hält -- und ich auch.

Er besitzt brillante Fingerfertigkeiten, magisch schnelle Hände . . .

Man hört ihn dort [no. 1] zum Beispiel am Ende der Durchführung des ersten Satzes mit duftigen, traumhaft leisen Pianissimostellen. Lang Lang verwendet feinste Pedaleffekte, die das klassische Konzert immer wieder in impressionistischen Klanzauber hüllen.

[Concerto no. 1]: . . . flott, rhythmisch lebendig, auch schwelgerisch . . . er lässt den Werken blitzende Präzision zuteil werden . . . Lang Lang und Christoph Eschenbach [zeigen] am Pult des Orchestre de Paris Temperament und Engagement . . . Lang Lang . . . spielt sie kraftvoll und selbstbewusst. Die romantisch-duftende Poesie des Mittelsatzes zeichnet er weich, sehnsüchtig . . .
[Concerto no. 4]: Da werden Klavierfiguren . . . wie aus leisem Dahindämmern belebt, luftig durch die Gegend geperlt, um in weichem Bogen wieder ins Piano zurückzusinken. Affektvolle Bilder kontrastieren mit lyrisch weichzeichnerisch empfundenen Abschnitten. Nach den messerscharf artikulierten Erschütterungen der Triller lässt Lang Lang den Abgesang besänftigend ausklingen. Gestochene Pianistik verbreitet das Rondo-Thema. Vitalität verströmen die kurzen Klaviereinblendungen bei der Themenexposition des Rondos.

Höhepunkt der CD ist der Mittelsatz aus Konzert Nr. 4 -- mutig zelebriert als opernreife Szene, als herzergreifender Klagegesang.

. . . reines pianistisches Glück.

[No. 4] . . . reines pianistisches Glück, so in der herrlich abgetönten Terzenfallpassage nach den aufschreienden Trillern des Durchführungsgipfels . . . So leuchten die Soloantworten auf das Orchester geradezu . . . das Finale . . . gelingt am besten . . . reines, unbedrängtes Spiel . . . der chinesische Pianist [kommt] ganz zu sich.

. . . alles souverän gemeistert; auch lässt es Lang Lang weder an artikulatorischer Differenzierung noch an klanglicher Transparenz mangeln . . . der Dirigent Christoph Eschenbach und das Orchestre de Paris . . . [lässt] durch seine Agilität und Prägnanz aufhorchen . . .

Pletnev hat sich viel vorgenommen, aber seine spürbare Intensität und sein ungebremster Forschungsdrang scheinen dies zu rechtfertigen . . .

Dass der Chinese über außerordentliche manuelle Fähigkeiten verfügt und in seinen virtuosen Möglichkeiten kaum zu toppen ist, ist keine Neuigkeit.

Man sieht hier wie auch im langsamen Satz jemanden mit beflissener Ehrfurcht vor der Partitur sitzen, entschlossen, dem Urtext zu dienen und sich wirklich keinen einzigen Ausrutscher zu leisten . . . wenn Beethovens Solopart einmal seine rhetorische Bahn verlässt und sich in ornamentalen Episoden erholt, verwandelt sie Lang Lang in reines pianistisches Glück, so in der herrlich abgetönten Terzenfallpassage nach den aufschreienden Trillern des Durchführungsgipfels . . . das Finale gelingt am besten . . . reines, unbedrängtes Spiel . . .

[Seine fabelhaft gewandte und geschickte Pianistik] ermöglicht ihm eine nahezu grenzenlose Freiheit im Umgang mit den Noten und Lang Lang setzt sie hier für eine sehr subtile, facettenreiche [und überzeugende Detailmalerei der Solopartien ein] . . . [sein Musizieren wirkt] nie sentimental oder auch nur sonderlich romantisch. Denn Lang Langs Espressivo wird abgefangen durch eine Tongebung und eine Gestaltungsweise, die keinerlei verfließendes Clair-Obscur kennen . . . [eine] im Stil geschlossene Wiedergabe . . .

La légèreté et le doigté du pianiste Lang Lang régalent son public . . . Un disque qui a fait l'unanimité . . . [Lang Lang] nous régale d'un Beethoven mordu à pleines dents, mais dégusté musicalement à la petite cuillère . . . Lang Lang est le roi de la "Fantaisie" . . . C'est assez charmant, cette santé musicale qui se permet de tout prendre non à la légère mais avec la légèreté de qui l'on peut dire, s'ils n'étaient assurément sur le piano, qu'il joue vraiment "les doigts dans le nez". Comme il se fait plaisir, Lang Lang, dans le Premier Concerto, cela se voit, cela s'entend . . . la musique est là et c'est du beau piano . . . le "Rondo" final, plein de verve et de vertu, rassasiera en gourmet.

. . . il vient de jouer . . . sous la direction de Christoph Eschenbach avec qui il vient par ailleurs d'en livrer un enregistrement de grande qualité . . . un vrai, un bel artiste, au jeu plein de jeunesse et d'invention, ludique et capable de mille nuances plaisantes et délicates, tout comme dans la "Fantaisie chorale" de Beethoven donnée le même soir. C'est festif, léger, espiègle . . . sobre par rapport à tant de ses prestations précédentes.

. . . un excellent disque de concertos de Beethoven marquant . . .

Son toucher souple et léger séduit immédiatement; sa lecture enthousiaste, finement accentuée, convient bien au caractère primesautier de la partition . . . le Concerto no. 4 par Lang Lang mérite un mot. On retrouve dans les mouvements rapides l'élan et la grâce qui faisaient de l'Opus 15 un petit bijou de sensibilité pianistique . . . Le piano a une très belle sonorité . . .

. . . somptuosité sonore indiscutable, avec un Orchestre de Paris aux cordes souples et charnues, aux vents gouleyants. La captation s'avère formidable de clarté et de transparence: tout paraît en pleine lumière, on entend tout! Cela permet de savourer chaque détail d'écriture et chaque pupitre . . . tous semblent subjectivement proches, à commencer par un piano généreux et chatoyant.
    Lang Lang and Christoph Eschenbach in Perfect Harmony

    Christoph Eschenbach has reason to be doubly pleased: as principal conductor of the Orchestre de Paris since 1999, he has just made his first recording with the orchestra in the “new" Salle Pleyel, the acoustics of which have been transformed out of all recognition following several years of work, producing results that Eschenbach finds utterly seductive. Above all, however, he is delighted to be working there with Lang Lang, the pianist whose artistic breakthrough he initiated and who is now one of the performers with whom Eschenbach appears most often. On the programme is Beethoven, an old acquaintance of the Orchestre de Paris to the extent that it was this orchestra's forerunner - the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire - that helped to introduce Beethoven's works in France from 1828 onwards.

    Christoph Eschenbach first met Lang Lang in 1999 at the Ravinia Festival, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Eschenbach was then the festival's artistic director. Their meeting was intended to be no more than an audition for the young and as yet unknown Chinese pianist, who had only recently graduated from Beijing's Central Conservatory and who was still in Gary Graffman's class at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but in the event it turned into a veritable recital. “I was not supposed to play for him for more than 20 minutes," Lang Lang recalls. “But he kept asking me to play this or that piece by Haydn or Brahms, and from there we moved on to Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Beethoven." For his part, Eschenbach still wonders “how a boy who at the time was barely 17 could have had such a deep understanding not only of purely virtuosic works but of pieces such as the Brahms intermezzos. I was fascinated by his talent and still am. He's a complete musician, not only technically gifted, like many young artists from Asia, but above all immensely musical".

    This impromptu recital laid the foundations for a close working relationship that has developed over the years into an unshakeable friendship. “In the end I was at the piano for two hours; Christoph had completely forgotten his rehearsal, so much so that when he opened the door of the room in which we'd been working, he stumbled upon the singers who'd been waiting outside for over an hour!" So impressed was Eschenbach by the young pianist's playing that he immediately introduced the young hopeful to the festival's executive director, Zarin Mehta.

    But destiny dictated that the young virtuoso and the conductor who could already look back on a long career were not to part company so soon. Lang Lang takes up the story: “Two days later, I received a phone call from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, wanting to know if I was willing to stand in for the pianist André Watts, who had been taken ill." 48 hours later, his triumphant performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1 proved merely the first of many musical encounters with Christoph Eschenbach. With the passage of time, the conductor has become more than just a musical partner but also the pianist's veritable mentor. It is a relationship that Eschenbach himself defines as follows: “Of course, we give concerts together, but our musical relationship goes beyond the concert platform. It is a true musical conversation of great profundity."

    This profundity no doubt stems in part from the fact that this is not a simple partnership between a young concert artist and a conductor with many years' experience behind him. Rather, it is a relationship between two pianists. As Eschenbach explains, the two men regularly perform together at the piano: “Gary Graffman had no objections to Lang Lang's coming to see me every three months to work on his new repertoire with me. He continues to this day to do so. We meet regularly to play, discuss and share things together." It may be added that Eschenbach is keen to share his experience with other young and talented artists besides Lang Lang: one could cite the example of Julia Fischer or, at an earlier date, Tzimon Barto. “Why should I keep to myself all that I've learned? I too learned what I know from my elders - in 1964, for example, I recorded Beethoven's First Piano Concerto with Herbert von Karajan, who was one of my mentors at the start of my career." George Szell is another conductor who encouraged the young and exceptionally talented pianist at this early stage of a career that has seen him develop into one of the most sought-after conductors of his generation. “They taught me a lot," he concludes, “and it is my duty today to pass on this legacy to others."

    Beethoven's works for the piano are an essential part of this process. Lang Lang had already worked with Eschenbach on the Fourth Piano Concerto long before it became one of their lucky pieces and one, moreover, that best reveals the degree of musical osmosis that exists between these two artists. The idea of recording the concerto together was bound to fill both of them with enthusiasm. “The more I listen to him," Eschenbach admits, “the more I am convinced that he was born to play Beethoven."

    Mutatis mutandis, the enthusiasm that Lang Lang has been able to inspire not only in Christoph Eschenbach but also in his vast army of followers is bound to recall Beethoven's own brilliant beginnings as a concert pianist in Vienna. It was with his First Piano Concerto in Cmajor op. 15 - composed in fact after the Second Piano Concerto in Bflat major, which was published as his opus 19 - that the 24-year-old Beethoven first appeared before the Viennese public at a concert at the Burgtheater on 29 March 1795. From that moment on Viennese society could no longer ignore the young virtuoso composer. However sensational the power of the two outer movements may once have seemed, it is the slow movement that fascinates Lang Lang most of all: “Although it is still cast in a Classical form, this Largo is already Romantic in character," he affirms. This vision is shared by Eschenbach, for whom this movement “already looks forward to Chopin". Lang Lang feels particularly drawn to this Largo, the expressive intensity of which is not without its problems: “Beethoven often demands extreme precision and will not tolerate approximation. What's so great about Christoph is that he has a sense of true rubato and is able to handle it without disturbing the work's overall structure, giving me enough freedom and space to express myself without feeling straitjacketed."

    The Fourth Piano Concerto in Gmajor was first played in public in Vienna on 22 December 1808, when it formed part of a mammoth programme that also included the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and the Choral Fantasia. “For 80% of my colleagues," says Lang Lang, the Gmajor Concerto is “the piano concerto, and I share that opinion." Whereas the First Piano Concerto had yet to break free from the tradition of Haydn and Mozart, the Fourth finds Beethoven inventing a novel form, not least by launching the work with an entry for the solo piano and with a performance marking of “dolce". “It is almost impossible for the soloist to find the degree of relaxation necessary to play this theme - you find yourself so alone and so powerless on the very threshold of the work," admits Lang Lang. And what is one to say of the slow movement, in which the piano seems to beg for mercy in the face of the orchestra's inflexible chords? “It is a veritable operatic scena, it is Orpheus who has descended into the Underworld in order to beg for Eurydice to be restored to him."

    Orpheus will soon be reunited with his Eurydice and - contrary to the legend - they will never again be parted. This, at least, is what the final movement seems to tell us, a movement in which Lang Lang and Christoph Eschenbach join forces, responding to one another in a spirit of perfect harmony.
    Pablo Galonce
    3/2007