Lang Lang's trademark piano style enthralls
In the program notes to Lang's solo recital at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday night, the trademark appeared everywhere, as if he had to worry that someone out there would be able to match his technique or copy his frequently over-the-top expressivity.
As it was in the days of Franz Liszt, Jan Paderewski and Ferrucio Busoni, a century or more ago, a Lang Lang concert is all about him, not the composer.
Trademark issues aside, here is a product that comes with a smile guarantee.
In three sold-out concerts at Roy Thomson Hall – one solo, two with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra – Lang brought every audience to its feet, cheering for more.
There were other, smaller-scale performances and appearances during the week, each bringing out devoted fans eager to catch a whiff of Lang Lang's special mystique.
Whether unfettered and alone on stage, or adroitly accompanied by conductor Peter Oundjian and the TSO, Lang never failed to play his heart and soul out. Whether you agree with his interpretations or not, here is an artist who has thought through every note and rest and shaped each phrase. He then delivers them with conviction as well as panache.
Then there is his technique. Words fail to express the feats of dexterity his fingers can muster.
For his solo performance on Friday, Lang chose a difficult program that included a vigorously dissonant Sonata from 1926 by Bela Bartok and a selection of sparkly musical abstractions from Claude Debussy's two books of Preludes.
As wrought through the Lang Lang (TM) interpretation, these pieces (along with Franz Schubert's meandering A Major Piano Sonata No. 20 and Frederic Chopin's "Heroic" Polonaise) sounded unlike anyone else's.
As far as I could tell on Friday night, as well as at the Canadian premiere on Tan Dun's The Fire concerto on Wednesday night and Tchaikovsky's No. 1 and Chopin's No. 2 concertos on Saturday, Lang's now nearly patented approach rests on a few basic elements:
He makes soft passages even softer, capturing our attention by making us listen even harder. He pauses between musical phrases, allowing the music to breathe. His pianissimo caresses verge on the ethereal.
Loud passages get extra punch with short, sharp shocks to the keyboard. This adds rhythmic fire and also, frequently, a harsh edge.
Lang has a tendency to highlight inner melodies and harmonic shifts in unorthodox ways, giving the sound a fresh texture.
The legion of fans, including many more young people than one sees at other classical concerts, wouldn't have it any other way.
This is a visit thousands of Torontonians won't soon forget.