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<<  -- 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 intrude.

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.

Copyright © 29 July 2003 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK



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