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Lang Lang: The Chopin Album
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Lang Lang: The Chopin Album
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World-renowned pianist LANG LANG turns to the composer who has accompanied him throughout his career on his new release for Sony Classical, THE CHOPIN ALBUM DELUXE EDITION. The music of Chopin, universally loved for its beauty and communicative power, has long been a dynamic force in Lang Lang's life, propelling him through a number of career-defining experiences. Now, in his 30th-birthday year, Lang Lang records his first album entirely devoted to the great composer's solo piano masterpieces.
THE CHOPIN ALBUM - DELUXE EDITION is a limited CD/DVD set with hardcover book packaging of the original CD plus the bonus DVD "My Life with Chopin." The DVD contains exceptional video material some of it never-before-seen home videos captured by his parents which uniquely presents key "Chopin" moments in Lang Lang's life and explains how the composer's music has played an important role in his career.
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On records the story is different. As this Chopin recital shows, Lang Lang's playing can be blunt and without nuance. compared to the freshness and delicacy that was evident when he first appeared, the pianist has followed Kissin in becoming somewhat hardened and impersonal in his interpretations. the opening work is the second set of Etudes Op. 25, and where I admired the flash and dazzle of Lang Lang's recent Liszt album, his focus on extrovert display in Chopin plays to the gallery, reaching for big effects without delicacy or much personal feeling. Tender, reflective Etudes like the C-sharp Minor (no. 7) afford a lovely respite. Lang Lang has a poetic side, which I find is most convincing attribute as an interpreter. The famous, spectacular "Winter Winds" Etude (no. 11) begins with finesse before it virtually explodes and the roof caves in. It's a crude reading, even though one admires the ease with which the right and left hand parts are voiced without fudging the difficulties.
The two Nocturnes that come next appeal to the pianist's lyrical side, but in Op. 55 no. 2 the phrasing is impersonal and a tad proficient. Lang Lang has such a precise touch that he can create air in between very fast passing notes, which is a marvel when Liszt write up a firestorm. The same quality gives a nice open clarity in Chopin, but legato passages sometimes feel disjointed - I'm not naming a serious flaw, only noting that the singing line isn't always brought out enough. The second Nocturne here (Op. 15 no. 1) is the most successful item so far; it's quietly reflective and touching, with restrained passion in the contrasting middle section.
Lang Lang mentions that the popular Grande Valse Brillante (Op. 18 no. 1) was among the earliest Chopin that he learned. He splits the difference between the elegance of Lipatti and the boisterous exuberance of Kissin. the result is perhaps too much of a hybrid to sound distinctive on its own, but the reading holds it own, certainly. You feel that a musical imagination is expressing itself, if somewhat cautiously. The Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise, which is so rhapsodic that it can fall apart, wasn't a work that I expected Lang Lang to excel at, but it turns out to be very impressive. His touch and phrasing are lovely, and real personality comes through.
Just as engaging are the two numbers that end the recital, the Nocturne Op. Post. in C-shapr Minor and the "Minute Waltz" (not played for speed - Lang Lang takes 2 min.) If only the rest of the recital had risen to this level, revealing what he is capable of. Like his other albums, this one won't earn unreserved praise, but the best parts won me over. The recorded sound and the piano itself are fine.
(There's a bonus pop crossover song that I will leave as a surprise, as well as a 14 min. DVD about Lang Lang's love of Chopin, which wasn't part of my download.)
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His fabulous keyboard technique dominates - as in his Liszt accounts - the proceedings. Yet a more refined - in musical terms - approach would have been helped more in imposing this achievement in the memory of the listener. However, there is a seductive freshness in his playing throughout, while a deeply felt empathy surfaces here and there. Lang Lang scatters inspired shadows and lights in his interpretations, absorbing the vivid aromas of the score. He seems to get poetic depths especially in Nocturnes (the marvellous op. posth. one is simply marvellously played). The 12 Studies op.25 are treated as mere exercises with few exceptions. But what fabulous exceptions! For instance, the "Winter" Etude becomes a hair-raising experience when Lang Lang relishes a wild storm on the keyboard. The Grande Valse Brillante breathes an impressive air of gracious playfulness due to his comprehensive and sparkling approach too.
Surprising - and not inspired, in my opinion - the last track featuring a kind of sung version of the main theme of Etude no.3 op.10. It could (maybe even should) miss the selection of pieces included on this album.
Released quite simultaneously with Maurizio Pollini's new Chopin recording, this album by Lang Lang falls a little bit secondary. Although I consider it deserves little above 4 stars, I'll give all the 5 ones, simply for its freshness and youthful vision on a demanding Chopin repertory. These are in my opinion utterly equivalent to Pollini's aristocratic refinement in Chopin, balancing the other side of the scales.