Lang Lang / Daniel Barenboim / Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn: First Piano Concertos

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This is the major-label maiden voyage for young Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who at the tender age of 20 has been barnstorming the concert circuit and gaining a lot of attention in the press. The works combined here, the "first" piano concerti of Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn, respectively, are certainly "safe" repertory choices for Lang, as these are the concertos he performs most often in public concerts. Their inclusion on the same disc is designed to show "both sides" of what Lang can do. Lang is joined here by Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Lang's youth is accentuated in this package, and there is a collection of several glossy color photos of Lang in the booklet in "glamour puss" mode: seated at his piano, staring directly into the camera, getting a shoulder rub from conductor Barenboim, and other poses, some of which will strike some as frankly ridiculous. The performances are well recorded and the C.S.O. provides a solid accompaniment under Barenboim without letting anything resembling excitement creep in to disturb these rather sober and uniform performances. Lang certainly has extraordinary technical command at his disposal, but these concertos are strangely cold -- his playing in the Tchaikovsky is clangorous at the opening but overly cautious elsewhere. The Mendelssohn concerto is painstakingly precious and a little underpowered. If you have seen Lang in concert, or plan to, and want to have a souvenir exemplar of his playing, then this disc is good for either purpose. But this Deutsche Grammophon release is far from being the first choice for these works; both are so commonly recorded that suggesting a single alternative within the context of this review would be pointless.

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