Lang Lang plays Mozart, but not as we know it

Chinese pianist, at his most self-indulgent, makes the orchestra seem almost redundant

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 December, 2014, 5:13am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 December, 2014, 2:20pm

Masterworks: Lang Lang
Hong Kong Philharmonic
Cultural Centre Concert Hall

Performing mimicry and tai chi while hitting all the right notes on the keyboard - that was showman Lang Lang at his best. But for those who cared about the music he was actually playing, they would need considerable patience to follow him. Keeping your eyes closed was one effective way to achieve this.

In Lang's hands, Mozart's famous 24th Piano Concerto sounded anything but Mozart. It was more like a variation on the concerto rather than the concerto itself. An odd tempo and idiosyncratic phrasing aside, the flamboyant pianist so indulged in his own recreation that the orchestra seemed redundant.

The erratic changes in rhythm and dynamics made life hell for the 40 players and their hapless music director Jaap van Zweden. Except for the woodwinds, the orchestra sounded very quiet, which was a good way to play it safe. The principal oboist deserved credit in catching up with Lang who obviously had a memory lapse and improvised some notes just before the last recapitulation of the theme in the slow movement.

The piano's entry in the final movement was unnecessarily furious, though he did show some virtuosity in fingering.

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Such a wilful interpretation might prompt some boos in the West, but then Lang would have played it differently there. The enthusiastic applause from the Hong Kong crowd could take part of the blame for the sloppy play.

Lang rewarded them with an encore. In the famous Alla Turca from Mozart's K331 sonata, he banged on the keyboard hard and fast, reminding us of the way he got inspired by watching Tom and Jerry cartoons as a toddler.

The 32-year-old Chinese pianist's excessive indulgence was the perfect fuel to unleash the pathos and power in Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony.

The Dutch maestro was back to business with his straightforward reading. The opening "fate" theme on the powerful brass was a no-nonsense break from the twisted music-making in the previous work.

The orchestra sounded fresh and committed, especially the strings. The build-up to climaxes was riveting, and the best was saved for the end when the orchestra attacked the coda in a devastating tour de force reminiscent of the old Soviet school of playing.