Lang Lang is incomparable, frankly. Few concertizing pianists possess as a lot stardom, and none of them carry out a repertoire as bombastic. So, after we heard he was enjoying Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” at Bing Live performance Corridor, we knew it was going to be an fascinating night time.
Friday’s efficiency — which additionally included Schumann’s Arabesque op. 18 and an encore from “Mary Poppins” — was one among Stanford Reside’s most anticipated occasions this season, with last-minute tickets surging to just about $200.
The Grammy-nominated, forty-one-year-old Chinese language pianist and philanthropist first debuted the “Goldberg Variations” from reminiscence on the tender age of seventeen. In 2020, he launched a recording of this work as a part of his tenth studio album. He was set to tour the album in 2020, however a lot of the tour stops, together with Stanford Reside, have been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The classical music world has been largely essential of Lang Lang’s interpretation of the work, with some believing that his energetic emotional expression is overly exaggerated. Right here, we current two differing views on Lang Lang’s efficiency — although we sat aspect by aspect.
A rare night — Aya Aziz
Regardless of having by no means performed the piano, listening to — and seeing — Lang Lang play at Bing Live performance Corridor this Friday was one of the crucial memorable issues I’ll in all probability ever witness.
I first fell in love with Lang Lang’s enjoying after I heard his piano rendition of “The Departure” from the soundtrack of the HBO TV sequence “The Leftovers.” I’ve appeared ahead to his Stanford Reside efficiency since July!
Regardless of having by no means heard the “Goldberg Variations” till Friday night time, I actually admire how Lang Lang’s emotional vitality introduced out the distinctive layers of what would in any other case be a monstrous entity of notes for a non-musician to decipher. His expression added vibrant shade to technical variations that may usually be in peril of being carried out too robotically. This showcased not solely Lang Lang’s virtuosity, but in addition the genius of Bach and the multidimensional high quality of the piece.
I used to be lucky to have the perfect seat in the home for a non-pianist: a middle-row seat barely off middle to the left. Why? I had an unobstructed, direct view of Lang Lang’s magical palms. Within the opening Aria, his fingers delicately pressed the keys, producing a lilting sound giving the phantasm of water droplets. When his nimble fingers entered into the climactic fast-tempo variations, churning out one million notes per minute, they shook with emotion to even his smallest pinky, portray the phantasm of a ship battling jagged waves at sea.
Given the truth that Lang performed nonstop by the night’s repertoire (with out an intermission), I appreciated how he additionally separated every variation with acceptable emotional cues. Typically he ended with a cheeky exhale and flourish launch of his palms, inspiring chuckles from the viewers. He gently phased out different variations, letting the ultimate notes sit for a number of drawn-out seconds to present them their correct presence and voice.
There was an virtually comical variety of distractions all through the efficiency, together with followers breaking the principles by recording or utilizing flash pictures, or younger youngsters squirming within the stage riser seats behind Lang Lang. A girl even walked in entrance of him to get to her personal seat as he was grandly introduced!
Nevertheless, Lang Lang’s emotional vitality made it really easy to get misplaced in his stunning enjoying. A number of viewers members responded to his music tenderly: a younger lady in entrance of me leaning her head on her father’s shoulder, and an eighty-something 12 months outdated subsequent to me reaching out for his spouse’s weathered hand.
After ending the “Goldberg Variations,” Lang Lang obtained a standing ovation. He graciously thanked the viewers with outstretched palms, and even accepted a teddy bear present from an enthusiastic father within the entrance row.
In a touching encore, Lang Lang carried out a classical-piano rendition of “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins, giving the viewers a peek into his new album of piano-adapted Disney favorites, “The Disney Guide.” The piece exuded heat and nostalgia; if I had a montage of the perfect moments of my whole life, I’d need Lang’s rendition of this music because the soundtrack behind it.
Lang Lang carried out the notoriously superior “Goldberg Variations” by melting collectively each notice with a rounded, pure sound, whereas nonetheless accentuating every one with deliberate emotional cues. It struck me that the identical arms that crossed over one another at lightning pace moments to play with mesmerizing accuracy additionally curled and flowed like a dancer’s would. He tapped his foot on the pedal with exuberant vitality to the rhythm, shifted to the tip of his seat as he climbed up octaves and even made direct eye contact with the viewers.
All of this allowed Lang Lang to rework music by Bach, which he himself as soon as regarded as “strict” and prohibitive of “loopy issues,” into one thing uncommon, thrilling, and delightful. Maybe most significantly, he made one thing memorable for a broad viewers of pianists (and non-pianists!) alike.
The pianist’s perspective — Peyton Lee
“I hope he pulls it off,” was my first thought upon studying of Lang Lang’s program. A bit as daunting, calculated and complex because the “Goldberg Variations” (with repeats, no much less) must be a problem for any pianist, however for the person I knew as “all flash and no substance,” I deemed the problem insurmountable. Nonetheless, I needed him to show me flawed.
Sadly, the critics have benefit. You will have heard that Lang Lang performs quick issues too quick and gradual issues too gradual: this declare is correct. Although he appears to have taken a lot inspiration from Glenn Gould’s 1981 recording, some variations — together with the agonizingly gradual no. 25 — dragged so lengthy that viewers members needed to step out. Others have been taken so quick that the rhythm and meter grew to become unintelligible. Most included surprisingly punched-out bass strains, gaudy ornamentation or poor contrapuntal voicings.
It’s for all these causes that almost all contemplate Lang Lang an indulgent artist who shirks tastefulness in favor of showmanship. Nevertheless, I’ve to confess that he performs the way in which aspiring pianists want they may play. I want I may take as a lot time as he does on the finish of items; I want I may bang out a trill so exhausting that I break a key for the remainder of the efficiency. Lang Lang is courageous sufficient to comprehend an unconventional interpretation of a chunk exterior his consolation zone.
He has actual pianistic expertise, even when he misuses it. He confirmed within the opening Schumann piece how managed and nuanced his phrasing may be, although it felt misplaced. He executed variations 5 and 28 with blinding pace and precision, although others have been muddled. And he matched his physique actions with each beat of each measure, generally for comedic impact and generally in a state of rapturous circulation. Lang Lang appears to have mastered the principles and strategy of classical piano, however he chooses to bend them to his leisure.
Although it pains me a bit of to say it, I got here out of Friday’s efficiency admiring him. Music programs by each blood vessel and nerve in his physique, and he has made it his life’s work to share it with a broader viewers. Lang Lang is aware of that most individuals can’t sit by the “Goldberg Variations” with repeats, however he performs them anyway to indicate you why you must love Bach as a lot as he does. He’s imperfect; he takes liberties; he’s even infuriating at occasions. However he brings folks into the live performance corridor and strikes them to tears, which appears invaluable to the classical music neighborhood at present.
Lang Lang did break a key on Friday: it was the G above center C. All through the complete second half, I used to be agonized by this flaw which appeared in each variation, a logo of his interpretive sacrilege. However by the point he completed the ultimate aria with it, I discovered it endearing; it was a reminder of a powerful and efficient efficiency — if solely a bit out of his depth.
Editor’s Be aware: This text is a assessment and consists of subjective ideas, opinions and critiques.