October 2011


Classical Perspectives

Piano Showman Lang Lang in Tune With Franz Liszt

The spiky-haired Chinese pianist Lang Lang remains controversial among classical purists but among the younger generation of players he's the closest thing going to a rock-like superstar. His flamboyant performing style has earned him frequent comparisons to Franz Liszt, so it's appropriate that he contributes to the composer's bicentennial with the collection, Liszt: My Piano Hero.

The album--Lang's first full-length studio recording since signing to Sony last year for a reported $3 million--features Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 as well as a series of solo works ranging from the poetic to the knuckle-busting. An accompanying DVD provides a revealing look at the 29-year-old pianist in the recording studio in Berlin. We learn how Steinways from New York and Hamburg were shipped in for the session. We also see Lang videoing himself in a mirror telling us how difficult the music is ("my fingertips are pretty painful," he says) and the piano technician praising Lang's artistry ("of course, we put things in motion for Lang Lang that we wouldn't for others").

As for the performances themselves, the Concerto No. 1, performed with the Vienna Philharmonic and Valery Gergiev, proves a fruitful showcase for the pianist's extroverted gifts; he hammers out the opening volley of notes in a clanging blur while engaging in playful jousting with the orchestra in the scherzo. Elsewhere, Lang polishes off the brilliance of "La Campanella" and the thunderous energy of the Hungarian Rhapsodies. The "Grand Galop" chromatique offers a rainbow of keyboard colors while softer pieces like the Liebesträume and six Consolations are remarkably restrained.

As for the album's title: Lang started playing the piano at age three after being inspired by the “Cat Concerto” episode of the MGM cartoon duo Tom and Jerry in which the cat, Tom, was playing Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. No doubt Lang Lang himself has done much to inspire a new generation of Chinese children to take up the piano.

WQXR-FM Album of the Week, Oct. 9, 2011


Lang Lang, Liszt: My Piano Hero, electronic press kit (C) 2011 Sony Music Entertainment


From the Bill Hanna-Joe Barbera Tom & Jerry cartoon released by MGM, 'The Cat Concerto,' the version of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C sharp minor that inspired three-year-old Lang Lang to begin studying piano.


‘His talents are most generously indulged…’

Reviewed by Andy Gill
Friday, 9 September 2011

The pianist eagerly marks Franz Liszt's bicentennial with this collection of his personal favorites, in which the limpid, emollient "Romance 'Ô Pourquoi Donc'" and sensitively Chopin-esque "Consolation No 3" sit somewhat uneasily alongside the grand emotional gestures of "Liebestraum No 3" and mannered exercises like "Grand Galop chromatique," which Lang performs in true show-pony style, with equine arrogance.

His talents are most generously indulged, however, in the Paganini study "La Campanella," a showcase of effusive flurries, sudden shifts of mood and rippling trills sweeping the entire length of the keyboard, all delivered with a restrained but dashing brio.

From The Independent (UK)


Lang Lang, Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C sharp minor, live in Tuscany

The first cartoon appropriation of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C Sharp Minor, in 'The Opry House,' 1929, starring virtuoso Mickey Mouse.


lang liszt
‘…in a blissful trance, hands raised to receive Liszt’s spirit, while some spaghetti-like substance whirls around him…’

'If there were a prize for the most toe-curling CD cover...'

By Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph

If there were a prize for the most toe-curling CD cover, this new Liszt compilation would be in the running. It shows Lang Lang in a blissful trance, hands raised to receive Liszt's spirit, while some spaghetti-like substance--possibly an ectoplasmic emanation from the dead composer--whirls around him.

It's true that Lang Lang adores Liszt, and is actually playing his First Concerto at the Proms tonight. You'd think Liszt's flamboyance would suit him to a T, and yet the strange thing about this CD is how very ordinary it is. To begin with, the choice of pieces is very pinched--there's nothing of Liszt's visionary grandeur or gift for scene painting, and some of the pieces are second or even third rate. Another problem is the horribly shiny and hard sound of the piano--which is odd, because no expense was spared in that regard. As the irritatingly hyperactive accompanying DVD tells us, two pianos were used, one of them flown all the way from New York to the studio in Berlin.

It's this DVD that gives a clue as to why the CD is so completely lacking in spontaneity. At one point we hear the producer announce "Take 135.” Can it really be true that Lang Lang recorded the same thing 135 times? It certainly sounds as if he did. The flashy pieces such as La campanella glitter in sterile perfection, but only occasionally, as in the Ave Maria, do we hear anything like musicality.

The performance of the First Piano Concerto suffers from the opposite problem: an exasperatingly mannered quality and a surprisingly lumpy, unfocused sound from the Vienna Philharmonic under Valery Gergiev. It's as if in their efforts to make the perfect Lang Lang/Liszt package, Sony have somehow forgotten about the music.

Posted at The Telegraph, Sept. 8, 20111


And here’s Bugs Bunny's performance of Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in 'Rhapsody Rabbit,' a 1946 Merrie Melodies short subject directed by Fritz Freleng.

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