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The 10 July concert took place at the Wiesbaden Kurhaus, which is renowned for its acoustics, so much so that Anne-Sophie Mutter had decided to record her Beethoven sonatas there. For the opening, the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Lawrence Foster played Adams' The Black Gondola for orchestra. This was followed by the long-awaited and highly cheered appearance of Lang Lang.

As soon as he appears on stage, you realize that someone really great is standing there: he has a commanding presence that belies his youth. Once he sits down at the piano he no longer looks like the twenty one year old he still is but, rather, like a master at the keys who seems to be somewhere around thirty, an effect that comes from the undeniable maturity that he brings to his treatment of the music. Lang Lang, in fact, seems intoxicated with his music, resulting in near-unconquerable difficulties being played with the same abandon as the easier pieces.

'He is like a cat at the piano,' says Daniel Bairenboim about him. That is one way to put it, but it is only partially true. Lang Lang came to the Rheingau to play Chopin's Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor (Op 11) and he played it all by heart. When he leans back during play, tilting his upper body near horizontal and playing with arms outstretched, he becomes an extension of his piano. Lucky the Steinway Grand that is being handled by his skilled fingers, which move up and down its keys like ten little graceful men performing a magical dance. Seeing Lang Lang, one wonders whether this is what it must have been like to see Busoni perform. In his time, the composer Busoni (1866-1924) was also one of the foremost piano virtuosos. Most of us are too young to have heard him play but one of his biographies shows a photograph of Busoni's hands, incredibly long and graceful as they span the piano keys, and when one sees Lang Lang at work on the piano, the thought inevitably comes to mind that this is what Busoni must have looked like when he played.

Lang Lang. Photo © J Henry Fair/Deutsche Grammophon
Lang Lang. Photo © J Henry Fair/Deutsche Grammophon

Lang Lang's piano sounds different to other pianists', as though he were able to coax out this little bit extra from his instrument, which it is only willing to surrender to a selected few that really understand it. Any gifted pianist with good technique and skill can play a piano, and can even play it well, but Lang Lang can bring the instrument alive in a way that can only be described as sensational. His octaves come with astonishing drive, the double notes with gorgeous power. The softer passages shine with friendliness, harmonizing under the authority of Lang Lang's skilled hands to display warmth, passion and radiance at times, at others moody, grumpy, or even devout aspects. There is delicacy, control, super-abundant tone colour.

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Copyright © 19 July 2004 Tess Crebbin, Germany


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