Thursday, January 30, 2014

Whang Bang No Thank You Lang²

Andreas Ottensamer, the recently appointed principal clarinetist of the tremendous Berlin Philharmonic and his esteemed colleague Wenzel Fuchs play a sublime introduction to Prokofieff’s Third Piano Concerto. Their playing only grows more mythic in one’s memory.
Next, the strings with a glorious crescendo buoyantly hustle in the superstar of the galaxy, THE pianist of the moment, in this sumptuously produced release from Sony, coupled with Bartok’s Second Concerto. Enter stage right Lang Lang, striding in wearing spandex and sneakers; or, is he in flight, suspended by invisible wires?

   From the opening bars, what detracts from his bustling athleticism
is his impetuous rhythm and erratic phrasing, his fast notes clumped together like locusts on the last ear of corn. Soon enough, Mr. Lang’s signature becomes apparent: willful, and comprehensible not as the efforts of an adolescent, but as a young child disciplined enough to control its tantrums. Perhaps this explains Sir Simon Rattle’s brittle, though enthusiastic, partnership.

   It could be argued that Lang Lang has a technique of some brilliance, but this chronicler finds it a disgrace to his trainers and handlers that at this stage of his prodigious career he will likely continue with barely a nod

to the decorum, civility, and propriety of this art we call fine, much less delve into matters of taste, tradition or aesthetics. 

He conjures a personality akin to Kim Jong Un; an irresponsible powerhouse impossible to ignore for his very expensive toys: submarines, satellites, nuclear missiles, impoverishing his people.
   Mr. Lang can create splashing sounds, like a toddler in its bath. He can produce structures small and middling, as a five year old in a sandbox. His scales are as effortless as descending a slide with hands in the air; his octaves have the energy of a sugar-fueled kid on a jungle gym. The Bartok cadenza is executed with merciful rapidity.

   A feature of Mr. Lang’s performances is that there's always some vicarious (though

upsetting) thrill to hear this piano player beat the living s**t out of his instrument. In this recording it happened only once, in a reprise of the theme in the middle of the last movement of the Bartok. Why was the Prestissimo of the 2nd movement so measured? (Ah, but the dialogue between piano and timpani - how often can one thank the timpani player for his foreboding and menacing artistry?) Honestly, it would be more entertaining to hear this performer unfettered; it could have the fascination of observing a traffic accident, or Judy Garland.
This pianist mostly distracts from the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the living Wonders of the Western World, except when his poor percussive playing in the opening movements of both works makes the
castanets and snare drums sound fantastic - how often can one thank the auxiliary percussionist? 

With consistently astonishing playing from the orchestra and its principals, is there an app to remove the clattering soloist from this recording?

~ CrackCritic


  1. I share your lack of enthusiasm. And I'm reminded of Robert Simpson's remark about Elgar after a performance of one of his symphonies - "I refuse to be addressed in that manner"

    Could equally apply to a performer

  2. Allow me to share a comment from a colleague in Alberta Canada about my latest review. I am honored that he feels as strongly as I do. Even to the point of threatening violence, to which I am no stranger ~CrackCritic.

    Bill Rankin: Even if there's any truth in this, if I read this guy got gutted on his way home from the office, I wouldnt feel his pain. What a base human being, regardless of his taste. This isn't criticism; it's psychosis.
    2 hours ago · Edited · Like

  3. Bravo Mr Laurel for offering a refreshing change from the usual sycophantic or "aren't his fingers amazing?" write ups of Lang Lang! While I take my hat off to Mr Lang for his indefatigable crusade to make the piano accessible to all, I have never enjoyed his playing. One may marvel at his fleet fingers, but these piano pyrotechnics do not serve the music, only the ego of the performer. As a pianist myself, I well understand the need to ensure technique serves the music, and the sound thereof. Sadly these days there are rather too many young pianists who seem to come from the same school of "fast/louder" playing as Mr Lang.

  4. It's quite fitting to compare him to North Korea's brat-in-chief, but not only in his taste. At the start of the season some years ago, I was surprised to find Lang's nemesis Yundi Li had been scheduled to perform in the main hall of the Carnegie, in late january! A revolution must have taken place at the top of the food chain in the music business, I thought happily. But just a couple of weeks later an announcement comes in from Carnegie Hall letting its patrons now that Mr. Li's appearance had been May... I wonder if a temper tantrum was involved...

  5. Great. And perhaps equally worthy of discussion is the preposterous fee his managers extort from promoters and orchestras around the world, an obscenely disproportionate slice of any annual budget, leaving the other, greater artists to pick up the crumbs. His fees, as has long been the case with opera singers nowadays, should be capped out of fairness to the rest.

  6. I think anyone who listened to this CD blind would hear great musicianship. Leaving aside the remarks in this "review" that border on racist, there's simply no substance to the criticism. Serious critics who got beyond a preconceived bias of Lang Lang didn't complain about him hammering. Actually, many found his pianism to be lacking a bit of the bite and percussive qualities appropriate to the Bartok. Like so many Lang Lang reviews, this material is complete hogwash, and the snide tone shows this is more about punishing an artist for media fame than actually making sense of a recording.

    1. Dear Mr. Andrew R. Barnard,
      Concluding Joseph Brodsky's poem In Memoriam from 1985 are these lines.

      That's why the snow, this poor man's marble, devoid of muscle power,
      melts, blaming empty brain cells for their not so clever
      locks, for their failure to keep the fashion in which you,
      by putting powder
      on your cheek, had meant to look forever.
      What is left is to shield the skull, with raised arms, against
      idle glances,
      and the throat, with the lip's nonstop "She has died, she has died,"
      while endless
      cities rip the retinal sacs with lances
      clanging loud like returning empties.

  7. I feel sorry for Lang Lang until I see him. His father beat him consistently to practice harder. Now he thinks his is more important than the music he does not understand.

  8. lol what a fucking hilarious review. Keep up the good shit bro

  9. Hello esteemed Mr. Crack Critic,

    I always seek your reviews out since I most often am struck by your incisive insight to the real issues behind a performance. An outstanding review here. I first met Lang Lang when he was 16 at the Ravinia Festival outside of Chicago. Then, as now, flamboyance and being an attention whore are of prime importance to this performer.

  10. Hello Edward,

    I've stumbled upon this article of yours as I was reading a Slipped Disc article which referenced to this. You're absolutely spot-on here, and you have my utmost admiration for speaking the truth.

    I've also written a long comment on the same referenced blog article on Slipped Disc regarding my unfortunate personal experience with Lang Lang in two of his concerts.