The Mariinsky strings perfectly reflect the pianist's utterly original, cool and aristocratic handling of the big tune in the finale.
Record Review /
BBC Music Magazine (London) / 01. December 2014
Wenn ein Tastentiger wie der junge Chinese Lang Lang und ein Pultlöwe wie der Russe Valery Gergiev sich zusammentun, dann ist die Gemengelage sowieso schon explosiv. Wenn die beiden dann noch "Rach zwei" -- Rachmaninows 2. Klavierkonzert -- sowie dessen "Paganini-Rhapsodie" einspielen (Deutsche Grammophon), darf man sich getrost auf musikalisches Großfeuerwerk gefasst machen.
Record Review /
Stern (Hamburg) / 10. March 2005
Wenn zwei Virtuosen des Klaviers aufeinandertreffen, ist die Garantie für eine musikalische Sternstunde so gut wie gegeben. Die Rede ist von Rachmaninow und Lang Lang -- dem russischen Pianisten und Komponisten sowie dem chinesischen Tastenzauberer . . .
Record Review /
Der Musikmarkt (Starnberg) / 21. March 2005
Lang Lang plays Rachmaninov
Lang Lang announced his arrival on the Yellow Label with the thundering chords that open Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, one of the cornerstones of the Romantic piano repertoire, recorded in February 2003, and released on CD that autumn to glowing reviews - Gramophone spoke of the Chinese pianist's "breathtaking virtuosity" and the "purposefulness and conviction of the playing". Now, after the equally successful solo recital "Live at Carnegie Hall", released on CD, SACD and DVD, Lang Lang turns his attention to another of the great Romantic concertos, Rachmaninov's Second, and another arresting opening: those sombre, tolling piano chords that herald the dark lyricism of one of the composer's most tragic melodies, and a swirling sound-world that the pianist himself describes as like "an ocean".
Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto is one of the most popular pieces in the entire repertoire, but it was not the first of the composer's four concertos that Lang Lang chose to learn. He had heard that the Third was the most difficult, and made a point of learning that concerto first, only later moving on to the Second, which he took up at the age of 14. Now he concedes that in artistic terms the Second actually poses greater challenges, precisely because of its popularity. Both now feature in his repertoire. He made his début at the London Proms in 2001 with the Third, and in April 2004 had the opportunity to take the Second back to the city of its birth, Moscow, with an all-Russian line-up: the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg under their conductor Valery Gergiev. The new recording, with the same forces, was made live at a concert in Mikkeli in Finland during the summer of 2004.
Working together with a Russian orchestra and conductor has been a powerful inspiration for the pianist, and he is characteristically enthusiastic both about the relationship he established with Gergiev and about the playing of the orchestra, which he describes as "really Russian: brilliant, powerful and exciting". The Concerto is famous for marking in music the composer's emergence from a long period of depression, and consequently can be read in very personal, intimate terms, what Lang Lang calls "the darkness of his soul". As he says, "there is a constant sense of unease, yet at the same Rachmaninov creates huge, sweeping melodic lines, like the broad Russian landscape. It's a very deep piece of music; you can't play it as you would a light-hearted piece by Mozart. You must incorporate the sadness, the grief."
But the pianist is equally keen to get to the heart of the music's uniquely Russian qualities. During his spring tour of Russia, Lang Lang recorded his impressions of the country in an online diary, and it is clear that he sees a strong connection between the environment - landscape and people - and Rachmaninov's music. Walking around Moscow, almost in the composer's footsteps, Lang Lang found further insights into the concerto: "The first thing I discovered was the wind. This I had noticed in the music - some passages are like the wind. Secondly, everything is very grand and noble, yet intricate, like Tchaikovsky's statue. Bells are certainly one of the most important images in the concerto. As I passed the churches I heard the tremendous sound of the bells, a beautifully harmonic sound. Rachmaninov heard those bells, and their sound led him to his melodies."
Gergiev agrees that it is important to understand Russian culture to connect with the music of Rachmaninov. He calls it being "culturally prepared", a phrase that speaks volumes about the artistic commitment of this conductor, one of the greatest figures of this generation. Of course, there has to be a personal element as well, especially with a piece that is as popular and has been as frequently recorded as this. Quite apart from technical virtuosity, and there are passages in the concerto that are among the most difficult in the entire repertoire, Gergiev finds something special in Lang Lang's approach: "Like any young virtuoso he can play the instrument brilliantly. What is interesting is that he's not in a rush; he knows that the composer wants the artist to take time to enjoy the piece."
But Russia is not so foreign for a Chinese pianist born at the end of the 20th century, and Lang Lang is aware that because of the ties between the two countries, Russian music featured strongly in his own musical education. His teachers also made a point of making him listen to Russian orchestral music, by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. And then, as Lang Lang points out, "since Russia and China have the shared experience of revolution, it is not difficult for Chinese people to identify with the expression of suffering that lies at the heart of Russian Romantic music."
The Second Concerto is coupled with the composer's last piece for piano and orchestra, the Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, composed in 1934 in Switzerland, after Rachmaninov, in middle age, had left Russia with his family for life abroad. Based on the well-known theme from the last of Paganini's 24 Caprices for solo violin, it brings the idea of virtuosity full circle - Paganini the demonic violinist of legend linked to Rachmaninov the keyboard wizard. The composer made a recording of the piece weeks after its first performance in November 1934 in Baltimore with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Stokowski.
In tackling the piece, Lang Lang is conscious of the example set by the composer's own recordings: "I have listened to them many times, and what is peculiar about them is the fact that Rachmaninov played differently from what he wrote in the scores... He puts great feeling and soul into the music, and through his playing one can hear the traditional Russian school coming through. It's almost as though Rachmaninov is improvising, the playing is so fluent and communicates directly to the listener."
And communication is the goal that unites Gergiev and Lang Lang. For the conductor, there is a clear need today for "artists who go straight to the listener's heart. Every naturally gifted musician will find a way to communicate with the audience, and Lang Lang is one of the few. You cannot imagine the audience being in love with the music... unless the artist himself is in love with it." The live atmosphere preserved on this recording is important too: Gergiev is not hung up on a performance being, as he puts it, "clinically precise", but wants it to be "naturally musical, naturally beautiful".
Lang Lang - Chronology
"Yes, there's gold in them fingers." (The Times, 2 May 2003)
Acclaimed in the major concert halls of North America, Europe and Asia, Lang Lang - at the age of 22 - has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to connect with audiences on a deeply personal level and has established himself as one of the most exciting pianists of our time. Lang Lang's talent and personality make him an ideal ambassador for classical music and a role model for young people. He has performed live on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and will soon be seen on "sesame Street". He is the first Chinese pianist to be engaged by the Berlin Philharmonic and all "Big Five" American orchestras. In 2004 he took up his duties as UN Goodwill Ambassador with a visit to Tanzania, further expanded his devoted fan base with a triumphant concert tour of Australia and New Zealand, and topped the classical charts (and even entered the German pop charts) with his Carnegie Hall recital recording.
Born in Shenyang, China, Lang Lang begins his piano studies at the age of three with Professor Zhu Ya-Fen from the Shenyang Conservatory of Music.
Wins first prize in the Shenyang Piano Competition after which he gives his first public recital. In the coming years he takes first prize in the Fifth Xing Hai Cup Piano Competition in Beijing, first prize and "outstanding artistic performance" in the Fourth International Young Pianists Competition in Germany, and first prize at the Tchaikovsky International Young Musicians Competition held in 1995 in Japan.
Enters the Central Music Conservatory in Beijing, where he studies with Professor Zhao Ping-Guo.
Plays the complete Chopin Etudes in the Beijing Concert Hall.
In September, performs as one of the soloists at the inaugural concert of the China National Symphony, which President Jiang Ze-Min attends as guest of honour.
Begins studies with Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, which he concludes in 2002.
Decisive career breakthrough in August with his dramatic last-minute substitution for an indisposed André Watts at the Ravinia Festival's "Gala of the Century", playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Makes sold-out Carnegie Hall début in April to great critical acclaim playing the Grieg Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony under Yuri Temirkanov. In June Lang Lang travels to Beijing with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Wolfgang Sawallisch for a tour celebrating the orchestra's 100th anniversary, during which he performs to an audience of 8000 at the Great Hall of the People.
BBC Proms début in August, playing Rachmaninov's Third Concerto - The Timesof London's critic writes: "Lang Lang took a sold-out Albert Hall by storm...This could well be history in the making."
Recital débuts at London's Wigmore Hall, Washington's Kennedy Center and the Louvre in Paris. Makes his subscription-concert débuts with the New York Philharmonic and London Philharmonic, both with Christoph Eschenbach, under whose baton he also tours Europe with the NDR Symphony Orchestra of Hamburg. Performs with the NHK Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit in concerts broadcast on NHK Television throughout Japan.
In July at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival he becomes the first recipient of the Leonard Bernstein Award in recognition of his exceptional musical talent. He is featured in a weeklong residency with five concerts at the Ravinia Festival.
Lang Lang joins the New York Philharmonic and Lorin Maazel for performances in New York, followed by a tour of Asia. Plays in concerts with the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall and on tour in the Midwest with Franz Welser-Möst. Other engagements include appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta, the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas, the Pittsburgh Symphony and Mariss Jansons, and the Philadelphia Orchestra and Wolfgang Sawallisch. His recitals take him across North America as well as to Europe and Asia.
Makes his first recording for Deutsche Grammophon in February: the Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn First Concertos, with Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Tours China in August with concerts and recitals. Festival appearances include performing the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto at the opening concert of the BBC Proms with Leonard Slatkin at the Albert Hall, as well as Mostly Mozart (for the first time), Aspen, Tanglewood (with the Boston Symphony), Ravinia (with the Chicago Symphony), Saratoga (with the Philadelphia Orchestra), Blossom (with the Cleveland Orchestra), Verbier, Schleswig-Holstein and the Ruhr Piano Festival.
In November Lang Lang makes his triumphant Carnegie Hall recital début, which is recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon and released on CD and DVD in 2004.
During the course of the season, he plays this programme (Schumann, Haydn, Schubert, Tan Dun, Chopin, Liszt) all over the world.
His orchestral appearances include the Philadelphia (Eschenbach), Los Angeles Philharmonic (Marin Alsop), London Philharmonic (Vladimir Jurowski), Orchestre de Paris (Eschenbach), Israel Philharmonic (Frédéric Chaslin), Staatskapelle Berlin (Barenboim), Mariinsky (Gergiev), Hong Kong Philharmonic (Herbig) and, in June, the closing-night concert of the Berliner Philharmoniker season, with Sir Simon Rattle at the Waldbühne.
Summer includes a concert tour of Australia and New Zealand, festival appearances in Ravinia and Verbier and a recording for Deutsche Grammophon of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with Valery Gergiev conducting. It will be released in 2005. Makes his recital début at the Berlin Philharmonie in May and a coast-to-coast US recital tour in November. Honoured with the German Echo Awards as "Instrumentalist of the Year".
Appears in Beijing and on an extensive North American tour with the China Philharmonic as well as with numerous leading international orchestras including the New York Philharmonic (Maazel), Detroit Symphony (Neeme Järvi), Atlanta Symphony (Spano), Pittsburgh Symphony (Alsop), Philadelphia (Eschenbach - in Philadelphia and on an Asian tour), Berlin Staatskapelle, Chicago Symphony (Barenboim), Frankfurt Radio Symphony (Wolff), Royal Concertgebouw (Gatti), Munich and Vienna Philharmonic (both with Mehta), London Symphony (Sir Colin Davis), Oslo Philharmonic (Noseda), Maggio Musicale of Florence (Bychkov) and Dresden Staatskapelle (Conlon).
Solo recitals and performances at summer festivals throughout North America and Europe.
Orchestral engagements already include the Berlin Staatskapelle (Barenboim), New York Philharmonic (Maazel), Swedish Radio Symphony (Honeck, in Stockholm and a Spanish tour) and UBS Verbier Festival Youth orchestras (Zinman, throughout Europe and South America).