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<<  -- 3 --  John Bell Young    ON TOP OF THE NOTES


To say that Lang's assault on Brahms's popular suite of intermezzi and romances, Op 118 is just that would be an understatement. It is a painfully immature reading, one that discloses the seriousness of Lang's rhythmic deficiencies. He fails to grasp the structural teleology of a composition, blithely ignoring any real legato. Goal orientation as a measure of interpretive finesse is evidently not his strong suit. It is a performance, in fact, that sidles up to the interpretively amateur. Whoever advised him to record this august work has done him an injustice. Anyone even remotely familiar with its musical demands will recoil in astonishment at the sheer breadth of Lang's vacuous posturing.

How clumsily he stumbles on to the opening seventh chord in the first intermezzo, failing to convey the rhythmic innuendo that distinguishes an upbeat from a downbeat. Thus does he make of this orchestrally conceived piece little more than piano music. Shame on him, too, for eviscerating the A major intermezzo of its implicit alpine lied as he mercilessly accents every downbeat (which he counts in 3 rather than 6, thus completely abusing it of its inherent schwung, or swing, which relies for its very life on the conveyance of a larger rhythmic unit) and for his wholly mechanical, grade school pounding of the heroic G minor Ballade. In the haunting, even epicene strains of the suite's final entry in E flat minor, the high beams of Lang's immaturity shine so bright as to burn a hole in its very fabric. From the opening salvo it is unintelligible. Here, Lang's naïve, note to note approach betrays serious interpretive inadequacies. Why his teachers never explained to him, for example, the function of the pedal point on G flat in this passage and others is beyond me. As any first year harmony student knows, the affective influence of that single pitch is central to its structure. In failing to recognize its role, Lang attenuates rhythm, which relies on precisely such grammatical functions to set up the ebb and flow of the entire piece. As the rest of the passage orbits around it, that one pitch evolves as the source of all dynamic and rhythmic tension. For this pianist, though, one pitch is just equal to another. Thus his playing, metrical but superficial and arrhythmic, astounds not for its virtuosity, but for precisely the opposite: an ignorance of what rhythm is all about.

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Copyright © 19 May 2001 John Bell Young, Tampa, Florida, USA








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