Two very different pianists on successive nights: Lang Lang playing Chopin, Richard Goode playing Mozart. China vs America, youthful ardour vs seasoned wisdom. And when the former bounded on stage for Chopin's Piano Concerto in E minor, it was clear that we would be getting the full-octane treatment.
Lang Lang may be just 24, but Chopin was 20 when he wrote this ardently Romantic work, so the match was good, and for Lang Lang, who relishes vast arenas, the Albert Hall was intimate, and his opening melody sang out with easy assurance. He knew how to pace runs and cascades so that each note counted, and his first movement came across with bright expressiveness. In the Romanze, there was tender conviction, complemented by the Pittsburgh SO strings under Leonard Slatkin.
This work is all about pianistic bravura, and Lang Lang was in his element, instinctively lending a hand with the conducting whenever he had one free. For an encore by Liszt, he whipped his piano to within an inch of its life, and the audience stamped and clapped along.
Lang Lang is a regular on the chat-show circuit, and a Unicef goodwill ambassador. Classical music needs showmen like him, but it also needs performers like Goode, whose recorded Mozart has oracular authority. Goode, however, is not a natural arena performer: how would he measure up? Bravely, but from my seat, I got no whiff of that oracular quality. The Concerto in A major is played too much, but it was good to hear its first movement delivered with unfussy directness, its second with ruminative charm. However, it was impossible to catch the fine detail, not to mention Goode's habitual growl.
Meanwhile, the symphonic juggernaut rolls on. Slatkin and the Pittsburgh gave us the Proms premiere of Charles Ives' Second, 97 years after its completion: a purposefully rambling work, like many bands marching in opposite directions. Jiri Belohlavek and the BBC SO made (relatively) light and graceful work of Bruckner's ponderous, sprawling Ninth.
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