CD shows a master of bravura, nuance

April 15, 2001|By Tim Smith

Lang Lang. Works by Haydn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Balakirev, Rachmaninoff. (Telarc CD-80524)

This sit-up-and-take-notice recital disc, recorded live at Tanglewood's Seiji Ozawa Hall, makes plain why there's such a buzz about the 18-year-old pianist named Lang Lang.

He has built much of his reputation on large-scale, virtuoso repertoire, and Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2 certainly gives him plenty of opportunity to show that side of his talent. But the opening Haydn sonata has even more to say about Lang Lang's ability and continued promise.

He approaches it with a remarkably eloquent touch, full of dynamic nuances and thoughtful turns of phrase. The Bach-like second movement inspires playing that is subtle and introspective, yet never artificially moody; the outer movements have admirable color and vitality.

Technical and interpretive skill also abounds in Brahms' Op. 118. Lang Lang's interpretation may not erase memories of keyboard immortals from the first half of the 20th century who had a deeply intuitive connection to these musical autumn leaves, but he plays them with considerable eloquence.

While the bravura side of the Rachmaninoff sonata is handled fearlessly, the pianist finds particular inspiration in the work's reflective passages. Tchaikovsky's C-sharp minor Nocturne is likewise given a rich, poetic reading. To cap the recording, Lang Lang flies fearlessly through Balakirev's finger-busting "Islamey." And he makes a lot of effective music out of all those notes, too.

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