This combination is even more bizarre than when Klemperer and Barenboim teamed up to record the Beethoven Piano Concertos almost 50 years ago. Any initial misgivings back then were quickly dispelled: the cycle was a triumph. Lang Lang, by contrast, provided one of the most scarifying musical experiences of my life at a 2011 recital in Sydney (complete with mewling infant) with his clueless Beethoven and Albéniz so unidiomatic I gazed up at the ceiling and thought of Larrocha and Rubenstein.
These CDs are mainly a pleasant surprise. Harnoncourt, whose Mozart I generally revere, (although I was bemused to read one blog that said he seemed “out of his depth here”) also has irritating tics (not to mention his “concepts”) but the collaboration works. I hope it doesn’t sound patronising to say Lang Lang is on his best behaviour and his Mozart sounds endearingly old-fashioned and elegant rather than just careful.
There’s not much sturm und drang in the C Minor Concerto and it’s a universe away from what we routinely hear from, say, Brautigam and Levin, but the Vienna Philharmonic’s winds are gorgeous in their exchanges in the slow movement (it’s always salutary to be reminded about how beautifully they play this music). Likewise in the less familiar K453 Concerto, although I’ve heard cheekier, wittier and more abandoned codas.
The Concertos were recorded in Vienna but the second CD of Sonatas 4, 5 & 8 and other pieces were recorded live in the Albert Hall and the Salle Pleyel in Paris. Lang Lang is also ‘responsible’ here eshewing flashiness and embracing the idiom, except perhaps in the Rondo alla Turca where he momentarily reverts to type by dispatching it at breakneck speed. The Vienna sound is lovely whereas the live sound is not quite as good.