When the extraordinary pianist Lang Lang wiped his sweaty face during Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, I wondered if he should have mopped the piano’s brow too. For LL dances with his upper body, arms and fingers, there’s even a gesture of ‘Dab’ in his moves and because of his unstoppable, heart-racing energy, the piano is no longer an inanimate object but a living, jiving, partner. And on the subject of box office, what a dream he is. All tickets were sold.
Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto was written as a showpiece for the composer. And superstar Lang Lang, who enjoys rock star status as a classical pianist – he has 40 million social media followers – is astonishingly gifted in executing technical challenges. In Prokofiev’s most hair-raising stretches, the pianist’s drive and precision was supernatural, he’s a wizard to watch because those magically dexterous fingers can zip around the keys faster than the speed of light. Dissonant accents were dive-bombed as if his fingertips were eagles swooping to kill. It’s rhythmical, turbo-charged, radical pianism the likes of which this reviewer has never previously witnessed. Expressively, he whips up a storm and can create wonderful tone as was revealed in his four encores which included an arrangement of the 'Third Spring Festival Overture'.
Concert pianists are often praised for how well he or she channels a compositional language while contributing their own interpretative originality, but LL goes much further than this for he boldly crosses the border until the composer’s language is pushed and pummeled and even bent out of shape to suit his idiosyncratic style. And this willfulness has disturbed purists because the traditional conventions of recreating much-loved works are cast aside. This was apparent in LL’s unusual yet theatrically compelling delivery of Chopin’s ‘Valse Brillante.’
And afterwards there was a mix of admiration and whispered discontent among some piano cognoscenti who craved greater depth. Every concert pianist brings their own strengths to a program and channeling deep and soulful ‘meaningfuls’ may not be LL’s trump card. After all, classical music lovers would not go to a rock concert expecting to hear Erik Satie’s gentle piano reflections. And what LL arguably doesn’t reveal is countered by his splashy, spell-binding showmanship which has been tagged, ‘The Lang Lang Effect’ because he has inspired so many.
On stage he has a charming presence because he drifts towards the piano and greets the audience like an old friend, as if he’s just dropped in for a cup of tea. And when it comes to the inevitable standing ovation, LL extends a generous warmth to the audience, the orchestra, the conductor and the concertmaster as if all of us deserve the rapturous applause.
Mussorgy’s ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’ written as a tribute to the composer’s friend Viktor Hartman highlighted the skill of many QSO’s players, the Brass especially, there was impressive soloing, a gorgeous string tone and gravitas in expression of the famous ‘Pictures’ theme. But the tempo dragged and the performance fell rather flat, and the fact that the audience longed for LL’s appearance may have hindered the conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto’s direction. Perhaps in future, LL could perform two concertos in one sitting and make the entire event a piano-driven wonder.
Lang Lang with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto
Venue: Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Date: 7 June 2016
Tickets: $240 – $100