Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Keyboard Sonata in E, Hob.XXVI:31.
RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36. Johannes BRAHMS (1833-97) Six Pieces, Op. 118.
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-93) Dumka. Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. 19 No. 4.
Mily BALAKIREV (1837-93) Islamey.
Lang Lang (piano).
Telarc CD-80524 [DDD] [78.28]
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Taken from live concerts in the Florence Gould Auditorium in the Seiji Ozawa Concert Hall in Tanglewood, this disc gives the listener a chance to appraise the talents of a young pianist hailed by the Chicago press as 'a phenomenal talent'. The Chinese pianist Lang Lang, on paper, looks to be your typical Oriental Wunderkind, beginning his keyboard studies at the age of three and including virtuoso Romantic war-horses as part of his recital repertory. The music, however, tells a different story.

True, there is much virtuoso material here, and Lang Lang is equipped with a technique to match the most fearsome test. But it is in the tender moments that he shows the other, more human side of his character and it is his ability to touch a nerve by a delayed accent or by some insightful highlighting that raises him above the norm.

The Haydn is therefore not a curtain-raiser, but receives careful shaping and attention. Published in Vienna in 1776 as part of a set of six sonatas, it contains much delightful quirkiness and wit. Lang Lang employs a light tone, seemingly in imitation of an early piano. His staccato is clear and crisp and the light, limpid textures of the second movement give a hint towards the sensitivities to come. The finale is a delight, fresh and full of discovery.

It is a long way in terms of years and musical vocabulary between Haydn and the larger than life face of Rachmaninov. Memories of Horowitz (Philips 456 844-2) in the Second Sonata (1913) are inevitable, but Lang Lang is able to bring off the sweeping gestures with aplomb. Perhaps what impresses most is the second movement (marked 'non allegro') which comes across as improvisatory and nostalgic without losing its innate sense of musical flow.

Late Brahms provides a catalogue of pitfalls for the unwary, and maturity is of the utmost importance. Lang Lang's account is impressive beyond his years, especially in the tender A minor Intermezzo (No. 2) where his voice-leading, both in contrapuntal and in chordal passages, is particularly worthy of mention. The final piece, the E flat minor Intermezzo, seems to enter into another world, one of half lights and dark mystery that Lang Lang seems especially sensitive to.

Tchaikovsky's Dumka, Op. 59 is a quirky, sectional piece (the theme is very close to the famous 'Song of the Volga Boatmen'): his Nocturne, Op. 19 No. 4 is far more successful, and Lang Lang is beautifully languid in response.

The virtuoso side of Lang Lang's persona shows itself in his interpretation of Balakirev's Islamey, although as a whole it lacks the final throes of abandon. Characterised by clean pedalling and a Bolet-like approach to Lisztian lyricism, his account makes a worthy partner to that of, for example, Katchen (Philips 456 856-2) or Ogdon (456 916-2) without displacing either.

It is the delicate, interior passages of many of the pieces in this recital that remain in this reviewer's memory.

Colin Clarke

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