All world-class concert pianists basically fall into two camps: the polished introverted statue, a la Frédéric Chopin, or the bombastic rock star, Franz Liszt. Both composer-performers incorporated the double escapement action of the pianoforte, which allowed for repetition on a single note, and helped advance the piano into a lead solo instrument in Western music — as well as a bourgeoisie parlor furniture staple. Both legendary pianists exhibited virtuosic capabilities, and both wrote technically demanding music. Yet they had different styles of expressing greatness.
Piano superstar Lang Lang hails from Liszt’s camp; a showmanship quality, a fearless rubato, and yet even with his exaggerated executions the music undeniably speaks for itself. Lang Lang is not shy about displaying his mastery of Flamenco wrists, Michelangelo poses, and Cherubim angel heaven stares, but again the music speaks for itself. He is unapologetic about harnessing the emotional content of the physical connection to the scores. At this point in his career, it doesn’t matter what he plays, his style is shapeless, formless, and fluid. His rubato and rallentando have an extra wedge of space-time throughout the apex of his phrasing. His sustained pedal work is majestic and yet he’s not afraid to mute and use silence for dramatic fireworks.
Lang Lang’s return to the Granada Theatre included a program of Tchaikovsky: The Seasons, Op.37a; Bach: Italian Concerto in F major, BWV971; Chopin: The Four Scherzos; and a ferocious encore of Cervantes: Cuban Dances, in honor of his upcoming Cuban tour. His interpretations were all hand-painted a la hyper dynamic Láng, crafted with Van Gogh brushstrokes and Wing Chun hand slaps. He makes virtuosity look easy, like watching a Kobe Bryant shoot impossible three pointers with five hands in his face.
It could be understandably frustrating to hear everything interpreted a la Láng, but that’s what makes him so special. It is those moments, after a rambunctious intellectually mangled Bach sequence, when those special four-note motifs just pause and linger in your mouth, letting you fully appreciate the sweet fruit and tannins of classical music. Lang Lang’s musical contributions should be embraced for his respectful continuation of the Liszt musical heritage. As the legendary martial artist and philosopher Bruce Lee said in Enter the Dragon, “Don’t think….feeeel. It’s like a finger, pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”