LANG LANG Bridgewater Hall
His playing was, as ever, absolutely stunning in technical skill and constantly challenging in its interpretative curiosity. It was quite daring, really, to begin with Tchaikovsky’s 12-part The Seasons. It’s not his greatest music – but it’s very characteristic of a composer full of the feeling of later Romanticism: sentimental at times, but often dramatic and occasionally inspired.
Lang Lang responds to the dramatic – that was obvious from the January movement onwards. He also loves the chance to play in big, bravura style – we heard that in February, September and November.
And often he can change the whole emotional content of a piece from what you might expect, without any deviation from the score, by using its rhythms, phrasing and cadences in a novel way. He turned August into a jazzy extravaganza with emphatic syncopations, earning mid-piece applause in its own right.
One thing I’m right with him on is his rhythmic freedom. That was the way pianists played for most of the 19th century and it’s a legacy of later ‘correctness’ that everything should be metronome-regular.
Bach, of course, is a different language. He played the Italian Concerto with bouncing rhythms in the outer movements and a little eccentricity – he was having fun – and an exemplarily eloquent arioso between them.
Finally he moved into some of the greatest piano music written, in all four of Chopin’s Scherzos. Most piano soloists tackle just one to show off: he powered through them, with often exciting and also meltingly beautiful melodic playing, sometimes weird in its interpretation of the written expression marks, but always holding the audience in its spell.
The last two held the best playing of the evening, showing affection for the music, not just showmanship, incredible virtuosity, and an ability to find beauties in the writing that even Chopin may not have suspected he’d created.