He’s loved by fans, who sold-out the hall; by concert promoters for putting those bums on seats; by record executives for selling shed loads of CDs; by politicians for whom he is a cultural conduit to the riches of China; by media moguls wanting to add a touch of class to their tawdry wares; by thousands of young people whom he has inspired to take up classical music; by Birmingham City University which presented him with an honorary doctorate before the concert for “his outstanding achievements as a concert pianist”; by his mum who was there proudly filming the event.
Then came the music, and the problems began. One might overlook the carefully studied showmanship – Liberace-like smirks to the audience after a juicy bit of virtuosity and histrionic arm-waving – but not the alternate cajoling and lubricious caressing Mozart’s sonatas 4, 5 and 8 were subjected to. Exaggeration was all.
Dynamics and tempi were extreme: fortes were doubled, pianos tripled, almost everything a shout or whisper, fast became faster, slow became interminable – as in the eighth sonata’s andante cantabile which couldn’t sing at a crawl.
Rubato is one thing, but when the note before every resolution is held inordinately, creating suspensions which turned Mozart into Wagner, it becomes a tic not a technique.
Chopin’s four Ballades withstood this treatment better and in the passages which required Lang Lang’s style of furious finger-work he delivered in spades to the delight of an audience who applauded before, after and during every work.