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Reviews: Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2, Paganini Rhapsody - Lang Lang

Reviews: 5

Review by Dr. O August 16, 2005 (4 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
A wonderful performance by Lang Lang, though I might quibble a bit with some of the tempos. However, I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed with this CD. A concerto by it's very nature pits the soloist and the accompanying ensemble with and sometimes against each other. Within this interplay resides much of the drama and excitement of the composition. Unfortunately, here we have an orchestra that most often sounds as if it is an "innocent bystander" - somewhat shy and off in the distance.

I have to assume this to be an artistic decision by the producers of this CD, but it is one I do not agree with. I miss the crispness and clarity that Rachmaninov has so wonderfully given to the orchestra. The "balance" is just not there. (One only needs hear the classic performance by Rubinstein with Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to know of what I speak.)

Too bad, because Lang Lang is a first-rate pianist and deserves better than what we have here.

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Review by Allan1us September 24, 2005 (2 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Initially I did not buy this because of some criticisms of both the balance favouring the piano more than the orchestra and of Lang Lang's interpretation. However I heard a very interesting interview with Lang Lang on Radio 3. He spoke with such sensitivity and intelligence that I got the record and very much enjoy both the concerto and the Rhapsody. The question of the balance between orchestra and soloist has not troubled me personally.

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Review by georgeflanagin August 24, 2006 (10 of 13 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
"I sure would like to get that new Lang Lang recording," said Glenda. I picked it up during lunch the next day, and by 7PM it was spinning. Thirty seconds into the recording, Glenda's verdict was in, "I like this." Coming from a woman who plays piano, and has heard recordings of the Rach Man all the way back to 1924, that tells you the story.

This is what I call a pianist's recording. And living as I do with a pianist, we have a wall filled with pianist's recordings. The recording takes you right to the piano bench, at least in the sense that powerful low chords at the beginning of the piece shook the foundation of the house right under the sofa on which we sat to listen.

If you want to *study* the Rach Man's piano concerto #2, this is a great recording for you. Lang Lang can play stunningly well, and in this recording absolutely every keystroke can be clearly heard. I kept thinking, "Wow, I never noticed that before." In my opinion, Lang Lang nails it. When someone asks you what a Steinway D sounds like, this is the disc you play. The "iron bell" sounding low notes are not (in my experience) to be found in Bechsteins, Bosendorfers, and Faziolis. However, nothing in the liner notes says this is a Steinway, and I could be shown to be wrong.

The balance of the recording is all out of proportion to reality, but with a piece of music like this, that is part of the fun, right?!?! The piano is giant, spanning the full nineteen foot width of the listening room, and the orchestra fits nicely inside the piano. I sometimes lie on the sofa in the piano room and listen to Glenda practice -- and that's about what this recording is like. The sound just rolls through the room, and the sound is exhausting and relaxing.

I can't really comment on Gergiev's contribution or not; the Rach 2 recording is all about Lang Lang.

While the recording is much the same, the Paganini variations show more give and take. The creative tension between Gergiev, Lang Lang, and the orchestra is apparent, and the performance comes off well. Despite the fact that the Paganini Rhapsody is a war horse, we don't seem to have so many recordings of it as we do of the Rach 2. I think this one goes to the top of the list.

My advice is to get this disc and just enjoy it for what it is. It is not a realistic recording by any stretch of the imagination, but the performance is staggering. I feel like I played it instead of just listening to it.

And now, back to my sedate vocal music .....

george flanagin

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Review by jlaurson October 10, 2007 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Lang Lang's new disc, soon to be issued by Deutsche Gramophon, features their poster-boy pianist superstar in Rachmaninov's second piano concerto and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Lang Lang, the cornerstone of DG's attempt to conquer the Asian market has technical faculties that are second to none, at least among his peers. The repertoire is well chosen in its continuation of Romantic piano concertos, just like the preceding Rachmaninov 3rd (Teldec, awful) and Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky piano concertos (with Barenboim on DG, so-so). The gloriously, unabashedly Romantic work that the second of Rachmaninov's piano concertos is, it hardly ever sounds bad, and it does not sound bad with Lang Lang pushing the keys and Valery Gergiev waving the baton before the Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater (formerly known as the Kirov Orchestra).

But there has been much said on that concerto by other pianists, and Lang Lang does not add anything new to it that I am aware of. His playing—so much of the stereotype he's acquired already stays true on this disc—is gratuitously show-offish with little emphasis on the musicality and subtly of expression. He struts his stuff and flashes it like a São Paolo harbor whore. Now there is something to be said about São Paolo's harbor whores: they, like Lang Lang, make good business, after all. But seeing everything at once becomes tiresome, and I should think that the style does not attract much repeat business in either case.

Compared to the recent Hyperion release of Steven Hough playing all of Rachmaninov's piano concerti (with Litton and the Dallas SO) is a dramatic contrast. Hough breezes through the music without 60-some years of superimposed Romantic glitter and glamour, returning to (or perhaps rather: approximating) the way Rachmaninov himself played the works (available on Naxos and RCA). The opening chords are portamento in Hough's case, and he seems to have a goal in mind. Lang Lang's opening is separated, thumping, and the chords exist for their own sake. The second movement is a procession of perfectly correct notes with Lang Lang (the recording is "live," though the disc does not tell the date/s of the performance/s from which it was taken), and a shimmering, brook-like bubbling narrative in Hough's recording. Hough's recording is also "live," though the extensive editing all but makes that unnoticeable. Also more impressive - in a different way - is Krystan Zimerman's recent recording (coupled with what is probably the finest Piano Concerto No. 1 on record), which makes a more natural comparison to Lang Lang than the interesting, evasively sublime Hough disc. (Which was, incidentally, hailed to the skies in English-speaking countries' literature, derided or perceived with indifference in France and Germany.)

Less self-conscious and with more depth than Lang Lang, Zimerman wins the comparison hands down. (As does, for that matter, the Ashkenazy/Previn recording available for a pittance.) The fact that the two quotes of praise on the back of the CD come from the artists themselves seems odd, too. And even then, all that Gergiev can say is that "Lang Lang can play … brilliantly. He can be fast, precise, and well accomplished. … His approach is very thorough. He’s not in a rush." Quite frankly, that almost sounds like damning with faint praise.

Since, despite all that, it is enjoyable enough a recording, Lang Lang's disc may well be worth acquiring for the more hardened followers of Lang Lang. If nothing else, nine (9!) pretty pictures of the pianist (on the beach, at the piano, in the steppes, with spiky hair, with tame hair, just his hands…) might delight. On the notable side: three pages of information about the concerto, only two about the performer.

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Review by soundzgood January 16, 2015 (0 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
I am quite pleased. When a star performer is advertised as being the draw for a recording, I find it quite fitting to have that performers' partition emphasized. I think most auditors of such recordings also like and expect it. For uniform levels more in tune with those of a more typical live concert, one should opt for a recording emphasizing on the conductor, orchestra and/or composer.

As for the booklet, I've found that the recording is detailed on the very first page, and it states:
" Recording: Mikkeli, Finland, concert and congress hall Mikaeli, Martti Talvela Hall, 7, 2004. " as for the release, it is dated from 2005. The booklet is far more interesting than a mere few picture of the pianist.

The performance is perfect. The stereo track is very good, the multi-channel is also quite okay, but nothing to write home about. Noise floor is kept well in check, no weird stuff. If you like a good "piano" moment this recording is for you. If your more in the mood for a "whole, well-balanced orchestra" session, choose a different recording.

I love this album with it flaws and strengths, and when I am in the mood for piano, it's a treat. Better/more balanced recordings can be had, for sure, and nit-pickers may prefer something else, perhaps something natively recorded to DSD, but for the average joe with a half-decent system, an average ear, and reasonable standards, the disc is well worth the purchase, quite enjoyable and can be recommended as a "buy" item without hesitation.

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