It's time critics stop knocking Lang Lang. The pianist is accused of distracting antics and flashy playing, but after hearing him live, it's clear to me he has impeccable technique and a musical soul.
Lang is so full of life it spills over into gestures like flinging his arms around. If rock stars can do it, why not classical pianists?
The hall was packed full of fashion and sparkle, waiting for the superstar, but the Hong Kong Philharmonic was not to be outshone. They sounded luscious in Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn. The woodwind section was radiant. The strings had a glossy sheen and the brass was golden. This audience got a technicolor rendition.
Jaap van Zweden imbued every phrase with imagination, from misty autumnal landscapes to lickety-split gallops. The violas sounded like warm melting chocolate.
Lang came onstage for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 in G wearing an open-necked white shirt, his coif sprouting straight up. The orchestra eloquently sang the themes in the allegro, from innocent to bold to pathétique. Lang's first scale was brilliant and brash. No sense of miniature or preciousness here, just as Mozart would have wanted.
Lang Lang made eye contact with the woodwinds in beautifully timed call-and-response phrases. In the andante, Mozart sets up a chain of harmonies that flit through moods like a great actor's face. Lang's dynamics highlighted this, including a trill that diminished almost to silence while continuing to buzz full speed.
The orchestra and soloist were not as synchronised in Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C, which after a ravishing clarinet duo was often breakneck, percussive and warlike. There were also lyrical passages of ballet music and a dreamy, underwater section. Lang's playing always told a story.
For the encore Lang played a pretty, lightweight Mexican intermezzo before blasting his way through Mozart's Rondo alla Turca.