La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

TSO Overachieved with Lang Lang in Liszt Concerto

by L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

What a difference a superstar pianist can make.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s special one-night-only concert on Sept. 27, featuring the Chinese phenomenon Lang Lang, began with two very good performances — Mozart’s colourful Magic Flute overture and Brahms’ to-die-for third symphony in the first half of the program.

However, both performances became relatively pale and unmemorable the instant music director Peter Oundjian gave cue to the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1, with a relaxed and polished Lang sitting at the keyboard.

The TSO rarely sounded so concentrated and unapologetic, with beautiful lush tones that marinated the hall, and with the absolute confidence of a major metropolitan orchestra in top form.

Liszt’s four-movement work, performed as a single continuous piece and lasts for about 20 minutes, is a firecracker that requires full-on buoyancy and coolness from all players. Oundjian and the TSO delivered all that and much more, mastering the back and forth play of the powerful main theme and every little dialogue between orchestra and soloist. They looked like they had fun and when not playing they turned their eyes to the pianist at the helm.

Lang, still just 28 years old, gave the concerto a satisfying bravura-style treatment both he and Liszt are known for, yet not a single note was out of place. Every phrase was thought out, every turn of passage embraced, and every cadence bang on and choreographed with hand gestures not unlike tai chi or martial arts. He’s a bit like the Elvis Stojko of classical music in athleticism, except there’s much more poise and artistic vision.

Under Lang’s much-blessed fingers, the music danced, lamented and tumbled effortlessly. He could have easily played the whole thing with his eyes closed and, in fact, he closed his eyes or looked away from the keyboard most of the time.

Following an undying standing ovation from the audience, Lang performed two encores while the orchestra sat still on stage. But it was the Liszt that lingered at the back of the mouth at the end of the night.

Oundjian announced during the concert that the TSO administration is currently working with Lang’s people to have the pianist in town for an extended period of time next year. Let’s hope so, because pianistically speaking anyway, no one can touch him right now.


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