Sunday, January 23, 2005

Lang Lang

Another artist who has acquired a reputation for having more pumpin' Saturday nights in him than rainy, jilted Sunday afternoons is Chinese pianist Lang Lang. I guess I went along to the RFH today just to hear the 21-year-old 'phenomenon' play, unmindful of the specific programme he'd picked, which kicked off with Mozart's piano sonata in C, delivered with a delicate finesse. This was followed by Chopin's sonata No3 in B minor which I tuned in and out of, alternatively fascinated by the members of China's gilded youth sitting around me, the boys with African beads on their wrists, the girls with Luis Vuitton handbags.

The real party pieces were after the interval, though first I had a grin and bear it through Schumann's dreary Kinderscenen. Rachmaninov's Preludes on the other hand, are amongst my favourite flauntable pieces of piano swagger. Lang Lang's interpretation of No2 was pretty ear-catching but he varied the tempo a little too preciously in No5.

I'm not a huge fan of Liszt either, but LL kept the mood at cruising altitude with first the Hungarian Rhapsody No2 and then the Petrarch Sonnet No 104, which tends to remind most people of that Bugs Bunny cartoon. For his encore he played a Chinese composition (he did say what it was, but I was too far back in the rear stalls to catch the name), and The Flight of the Bumblebee.

On a Sunday afternoon the RFH resembles a cafeteria for the over 60s that just happens to have a concert hall attached to it. Here we are in 2005 and the South Bank complex is teetering on the brink of improvement. However, it seems we are currently in a two steps back phase. The spiral concrete staircase that used to lead up to Mandela's bust has gone, replaced with something less likely to be urinated on. The one round the other side leading to the Hayward has instead been painted white - as if that made things better. They must have got some work-experience painter to carry out this particular piece of de-brutalisation because he or she seems to have slouched away from the job dripping white paint all over the concrete walkway before a second coat could be applied.

I have seen some special pianists in this auditorium - none more so than Sviatoslav Richter back in '87. He used to play with the lights down so low you couldn't see the jammy cheapskates on the choir seats behind the piano. There was just a small light on the instrument itself to light up the score - a truly rare quirk for a legendary concert pianist. Beside him in the shadows an assistant turned the pages while he appeared to stare at the notes through his thick-lensed specs as if encountering the music for the first time. V and I saw him again there in the early nineties, but I suspect his fingers must have been a tiny bit more arthritic by then.

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