There’s clearly something about Santa Barbara that appeals to Lang Lang, who made his third appearance for CAMA at the Granada on Wednesday, October 3 with a program that began with three pieces by Mozart — Piano Sonata No. 5 in G Major, K. 283; Piano Sonata No. 4 in E-flat Major, K. 282; and Piano Sonata No. 8 in A Minor, K. 310 — and concluded with four ballades by Chopin. The soft-spoken pianist, for whom a simple “thank you” from the stage is often the only utterance of the evening, took the time to describe his delight at a walk on the beach prior to arriving for his performance. One could not help but wonder if his reported retinue of four bodyguards accompanied him.
Whenever a musician achieves the level of recognition currently accorded to Lang Lang, there are bound to be those who find the whole thing a bit too show biz for their tastes. Lang Lang has been criticized for everything from his dynamics to his arm motions, and the latter are certainly extravagant enough to attract attention, if not approval. On Wednesday he approached the Mozart with care and a light touch, achieving a particularly convincing account of the No. 4 in E-flat Major, albeit one that emphasized the way that the music looks forward to 19th-century Romanticism, rather than back toward the relative simplicity of a period performance. The Chopin was a different story made up of all broad strokes and bravura displays of his admittedly spectacular technique. For an encore, Lang Lang played up the cartoonish features of Chopin’s Waltz in D-flat Major (“Minute”), so much so that for a few seconds I imagined he would launch into the “Flight of the Bumblebee” next.