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Chinese pianist Lang Lang receives the applause of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall audience for his performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of music director Jaap van Zweden. Photo: Ka Lam/Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

ReviewChinese pianist Lang Lang entertains in Beethoven concerto with HK Phil, showing injury that sidelined him is no longer a factor

  • Elegant, quirky, and even magical, pianist’s playing had much to admire about it, even if he did contrive to catch Hong Kong Philharmonic players off guard
  • Soloist’s performance of composer’s second concerto was the centrepiece of an all-Beethoven evening in which orchestra excelled under Jaap van Zweden’s baton

Lang Lang is back. The serious left-arm injury of 2017 that left the star Chinese pianist out of action for a year seemed all but forgotten in his performance of Beethoven’s second piano concerto with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra on Thursday.

His performance, combining elegance with great technique and plenty of flamboyant hand gestures, made for an eccentric and entertaining centrepiece to an all-Beethoven concert conducted by music director Jaap van Zweden.

Beethoven famously remarked to his publisher of the time that, along with his first, the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major was “not one of my best”. It’s a baffling statement: not only does this work offer a glimpse of the great dramatic expression that was to come in the composer’s later works, but it contains, within its Mozartian structure, numerous playful nods to teacher Haydn’s musical wit.

Lang’s interpretation left much to admire, from his wistful and elegant handling of the Allegro con brio movement to the sheer quirkiness of his reading of Beethoven’s own demanding and somewhat stylistically out-of-place solo cadenza later in the movement.

Lang Lang’s hand movements were sometimes extravagant during his performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Jaap van Zweden. Photo: Ka Lam/Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

The extreme workout the work’s opening theme demands of a soloist was a walk in the park for the pianist. Fleeting moments of magic appeared in the gently lyrical Adagio, notably the spellbinding sotto voce interplay between soloist and orchestra towards the conclusion.

Lang Lang had a ball with the work’s fabulous Rondo finale, revelling in its Haydnesque humour – so much so that on one occasion his cheeky treatment of the edgy, angular 6/8 rhythms caught the woodwind completely off guard. True to form, Lang Lang the entertainer, having enjoyed the enthusiastic applause from a near-full house at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, offered a mere flash of whirlwind wizardry as his encore.

Jaap van Zweden conducts the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in an all-Beethoven evening at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Photo: Ka Lam/Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

It was the Phil’s taut and rousing rendition of Beethoven’s heroic and dramatic Egmont Overture, which opened the concert, that most impressed – and offered a taste of things to come after the intermission.


Composed a decade earlier than the overture, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C major is a shining example of youthful optimism and bold experimentation. Much of the work’s energy is generated through the precise rendition of accents and sforzandi. The musicians of the orchestra were right at home here and van Zweden’s well-chosen tempi sat so well that one felt immense satisfaction at the work’s structure.

The pickup to the Allegro con brio after the experimental “wrong key” sequences of the Adagio introduction was completely homogeneous, allowing the first movement to chug along in natural merriment. The second movement Andante cantabile con moto was elegant and poised, even if some entries by the first and second violins felt too direct.

Beethoven the revolutionary heralded a new musical era in his Menuetto – marked Allegro molto e vivace. The playing of the movement’s scherzo was suitably brisk, but van Zweden never pushed the pace. The delightful Adagio teaser gave way to wonderfully buoyant playing in the exuberant Finale that surely dispelled any suggestion that Beethoven lacked a sense of humour.

Jaap’s Beethoven 1 Lang Lang, Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall. Reviewed: January 16, 2020