HAYDN:  Sonata in E.  RACHMANINOFF:  Sonata No. 2 in b-flat minor, Op. 36.  BRAHMS:  Six Pieces, Op. 118.  TCHAIKOVSKY:  Dumka, Op. 59.  Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. 19 No. 4.  BALAKIREV:  Islamey

TELARC CD 80524 (F) (DDD) TT:  78:28

RACHMANINOFF:  Piano Concerto No. 3 in d minor, Op. 30.  SCRIABIN:  Etude Op. 2 No. 1; Etude Op. 8 Nos. 2, 3, 9, 10, 11 and 12; Etudes Op. 42 Nos. 4 and 3; Etude Op. 65 No. 3  Liu Yang River
Lang Lang, pianist/St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orch; Yuri Temirkanov, cond.

TELARC SACD 60582 (F) (DDD) TT:  71:48

Surely a prodigious talent by any standards. Lang Lang began study of the piano when only 3 in his native China and was accepted at the Curtis Institute in 1997 where he studied with Gary Graffman.Winner of a number of competitions, he attracted attention when he stepped in for ailing AndrČ Watts in Chicago. Since then he has appeared with many leading American and European orchestras and given many recitals with marked success. Telarc's solo recital was recorded at Tanglewood August 23-24, 2000. It isn't clear if what is heard on the CD is from the live concert or if there were retakes—usually recitals aren't given in pairs, and two dates are given for the recording.  First-class pianism is heard in this recital in a wide range of repertory beginning with a chiseled performance of one of Haydn's lesser-heard sonatas. Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2 (in the later revised version) is not as successful—the big sweep and torrential outpourings of Russian fireworks simply don't come across—just listen to Horowitz or Wild in the same sonata.  Tchaikovsky's Dumka, another favorite of Horowitz, is given a subdued reading—caution is hardly thrown to the winds.

Rachmaninoff's Third was recorded live in Royal Albert Hall Aug. 22, 2001.  It's a puzzling performance. The notes are there in a reticent way; almost as if the concerto had been composed by Mozart.  The coruscating brilliance found in this music by others (Horowitz, Van Cliburn, Volodos and the composer himself) simply isn't there. Obviously the British audience found no fault with the performance; their enthusiastic response resulted in an enchanting encore, the brief (3:38) Chinese folk song Liu Yang River, a quiet, understated work that hardly was what the audience expected or wanted. 

Lang Lang is an artist I find  difficult to observe. While playing he goes through the deepest anguish, pain and contortions of childbirth, sometimes when playing a single note or a simple chord. Many other leading musicians subject audiences to similar over-the-top histrionics, particularly AndrĖ Watts, Yo Yo Ma and Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg. To me there is a major element of phoniness in these exaggerated gestures although, obviously, the Royal Albert Hall audience didn't find Lang's too distracting.

I've heard this SACD recording in both regular stereo and surround sound.  Telarc's engineering is not as impressive as usual from this label—doubtless because of difficulty of recording live in the wide-open spaces of Royal Albert Hall. Piano tone is rather muted, there is little presence and even hearing this recording in 5.1 multi-channel sound doesn't add much space or directionality to the aural picture. The CD is generously filled with a well-played selection of Scriabin Etudes recorded during a recital at Oberlin College October 2001. Both of these recordings are of interest to pianophiles—I'm sure greater things are yet to come from this extraordinary young pianist.

R.E.B. (May 2002).