Lang Lang Plays Beethoven

Date and Venue 4 November 2009, 8pm | Orpheum Theatre

Conductor Bramwell Tovey, Featured Performer Lang Lang - piano

Reviewer Sasha Dryden

When a musician as gifted and renowned as Lang Lang performs there’s inevitably anticipation mixed with expectation. With this being my first attendance of one of his live performances, the question was whether he could live up to the hype.

From the very first note, Lang Lang erased any lingering doubts.  A relatively small statured young man, he commands a big presence immediately and once seated behind the piano, there was no mistaking his skill for anything less than mastery.

With a gentle lilt and what was clearly a love affair with the music and instrument, a gorgeous Concert D Steinway, he began. Coaxing slow moving stirrings from the first passages of the Allegro con brio, a different approach to Beethoven’s drama was evident.  Rich tones trilling to his deft and sensitive touch, the keyboard was slowly explored, yet each note a surprise.

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat Major blossomed into a nearly frivolous work. Instead of the weight often stamped on Beethoven’s music, Lang offered a light, almost teenaged irreverence to it. A staggering drunken spree of notes, weightless sparks of tempo and the Orpheum was alight with mesmerizing musical richness.

The Adagio followed, pliable and delicate, each dexterous shift felt and space-filled instant explored. We were suddenly within a beautiful soft dream. Painting music from thin air, disappearing into both the piano and the notes, Lang added body and heft to the Rondo which was spry and un-chained from weighty burdens. Each air-filling sound round and bursting and with his ending, he sprayed glimmers of mischievous joy before returning for a brief lullaby-like standing-ovation encore to carry us home.

The VSO’s first set rendition of Mendelssohn’s ‘The Hebrides’ and Symphony No. 4 was a strong pairing for the evening. Exuberant and united, the orchestra danced and swirled through the pieces. Offering subtle crescendos and swan-like sway they seemed familiar, though not dispassionately comfortable, with the music, punching at the heights and flourishing the finish.

The abundance of violin and cello strings was headed spiritedly by First Violinist Dale Barltrop. It was wonderful to experience Lang Lang’s gift of bringing childlike perspective to Beethoven. He illustrated the music’s wit, playfulness and sweetness with his fresh vision. A young-hearted man bent on losing himself in discovery, rather than asserting his presence, Lang Lang showered us with unrestrained glee and imagination in the musical craft he was clearly born for. He was an inspiring delight.

© 2009 Sasha Dryden