Review: Lang Lang not short on thrills

Concert review • The legend of Lang Lang continues with a dazzling Salt Lake performance.
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There is currently no other young classical artist generating more media buzz than Chinese pianist Lang Lang (a name that means "brilliance of the sky"). That probably accounted for the elevated pre-performance anticipation noticed at Salt Lake's Abravanel Hall on Tuesday evening.

It's a rare treat to hear all four of Chopin's fiendishly difficult but poetically poignant Ballades on the same program.

Said to be influenced by the poet Adam Mickiewicz, Lang Lang launched into them wholeheartedly after intermission, showing the communicative skills of a great artist and demonstrating the incisive technique for which he is known. Each of the works, the epitome of romantic period style, was presented with fiery passion and clarity. While the ballades are wildly emotional in nature, the pianist didn't allow himself to wallow in sentiment but presented each work's individual beauty with clarity.

The selections seemed as comfortable to the pianist as a well-worn pair of shoes. He introduced themes with understated delicacy then massaged them into full bloom with colorful phrasing and balanced harmony.

Lang Lang's physical movement, something for which he has been criticized, didn't seem extraneous or distracting at this concert, but he conveyed a palpable warmth and charisma throughout the evening. "Quiet before the storm" passages were especially thrilling as he ended each ballade with blurred fingers racing to climatic endings.

The concert began with three Mozart sonatas, numbers 4, 5 and 8. The 5th sonata's opening was unhurried, showing plenty of daylight between notes, then alternated between lingering melodic sweetness and left-hand bombast.

Though technically transparent, Lang Lang seemed to gravitate toward stylistic excess during the Mozart works, especially during the slow movements of the 5th and 8th sonatas. Paradoxically, the 4th sonata's opening Adagio movement was exquisitely interpreted with breathtaking delicacy and a melody that seemed to suspend time.

The quicker movements were also dazzling with mercurial runs and tasteful trills that ended many passages.

The near capacity audience noisily applauded at the end of the concert, earning two encores, a beautifully sculpted Chopin Nocturne and the same composer's famous show-stopping Waltz in D-flat Major, "Minute Waltz."

The pianist phenom lived up to his billing, creating a memorable evening — something that will have increased meaning, especially if Lang Lang's stratospheric trajectory continues on course. —

Review: Lang Lang

Charismatic young pianist brought technical wizardry and stylistic flamboyance to Mozart and Chopin.

Where • Abravanel Hall

When • Tuesday, Oct. 9.

Running time • 2 hours