The initial burst of hype surrounding the appealing young Chinese pianist Lang Lang was followed by an equally strong backlash alleging that he was a pure product of panicked major-label marketing. Perhaps with this disc it will be possible to get beyond these rather instinctive reactions. Despite its thematic-sounding title, it's a very mainstream piano recital with its Mozart curtain-raiser, big Chopin sonata, and Schumann Kinderszenen, with the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C sharp minor as an encore on an enclosed second disc. (The "Memory" referred to in the title is that of having played these pieces as a child.) The arrangement of the Liszt is by Vladimir Horowitz, of whom Lang Lang seems to be seeking to become a kind of avatar.
It won't do to claim, as his detractors do, that Lang Lang's talents are in any way average; the piano is a big, intimidating machine, and Lang Lang is among the few pianists who seem to be in complete control of all its parts. Sections of all these works call for one kind of sheer technical mastery or another, and Lang Lang shines in these. His light touch in the first movement of the Mozart is unmatched. His perfectly controlled use of the pedal in the first movement of the Chopin makes the piano seem to breathe; his Chopin scherzo, a fleet little piece to wow the crowds in Chopin's Paris, is very sharp indeed. Nor is it feasible to claim that the young pianist has reached some plane of perfection that one would have to describe using notions of the Kantian sublime. The balance he intends with his Mozart slow movement is murky. The rather strangely accompanied but undeniably present bel canto melodies in the Chopin don't sing quite like they should.
In the end there's an X factor that makes this disc a good one for those who've heard about Lang Lang and want to check out his music. The program hangs together as a whole, and it does have an elusive quality of childhood music-making remembered. There are any number of other readings of Schumann's Kinderszenen that do more with one piece or another in the set than Lang Lang offers here, but there is a curiously dreamy, retrospective quality that hangs over the whole. The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, which Lang Lang first encountered in the music of a Tom & Jerry cartoon, lets loose some high spirits that speak of youthful enthusiasm revisited. Deutsche Grammophon's engineers have done their utmost to make the label's new property sound good, and they pick up the overtones that roll around inside the piano as Lang Lang's pedal does its magical work.