<< -- 3 -- David Thompson AN IMPOSING START
In between was more conventional First Night fare, the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto in
B flat minor, a work that we who aspire to be musicians only rarely get round to revisiting.
That, as the young and much-hyped Chinese pianist Lang Lang proved, is very much our loss.
If I say that this was a young man's performance, I do not wish to be patronising. It
had all the joy of spontaneous discovery and enjoyment that utterly lifted what can so often
come over as a very tired old warhorse. Technically, Lang was astounding, hurling off
torrents of double octaves as though they were five-finger exercises, and finding accents
and nuances within the densest of textures. If I sometimes missed the point of some of
these interpretive discoveries along the way, I could only genuflect at Lang's technical
ability to make them manifest. Nor was Lang, in this grandest of Concertos, keen to
destroy the instrument that he had so much under control, with the ferocity of his playing.
That was there when it was needed, but we were reminded that much of Tchaikovsky's often
ungainly-looking piano writing, is actually very lightweight and delicate, reminding us of
his love of Mozart's music. The second movement was simply gorgeous, especially in the
cruelly demanding central section, which really caught wing. In the wonderful little duet
with the solo cello, the two players were so engrossed in their intimate chamber music, that
Maestro Slatkin rested his baton, knowing, as did we all, that this was no place to
Of course, Tchaikovsky knows how to get an audience on its feet, and a clean delivery
of the notes is enough to do that in this work, but there was far more than that to savour
here. Yes, Lang was sometimes wilful, occasionally eccentric, even, and I guess this
performance would not be ideal for repeated listening. But as a unique performance in a
special context it was a life-enhancing experience; an affirmation of the joy of youth from
the splendidly striking take on concert dress, to the eager voyage of musical discovery we
were privileged to sit in on. That voyage may not be fully accomplished yet, but Lang has
surely ensured that we will want to join him for further stages of it.
An imposing start to this great festival, then, and, with palates refreshed, we eagerly
anticipate the delights and discoveries to come.