Lang Lang, the rock star pianist, is now the pre-eminent virtuoso soloist on the classical concert scene, and he provided ample proof of that fact in his bravura performance at the Mondavi Center (on the campus of U.C. Davis) last month. Performing a program of Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Chopin, he electrified his instrument and his audience by seeming to have choreographed every pose and arpeggio as he flew through the demanding works he chose to play.
This was the third recital at Mondavi by Mr. Lang. The first was in January, 2007, when he had just burst onto the scene as a brash 24-year old. He returned in October, 2012, at the top of his game, yet still working on his “shtick.”
In his performance last month, he showed that he has put it all together, right down to his post-performance bows. Now a mature 32, he is the complete consummate performer, with as much pure skill and mastery of his instrument as anyone has ever had and with the charisma and celebrity status that few would ever hope to have.
His program opened with Bach’s “Italian Concerto in F Major.” It is a challenging enough work in itself, but Mr. Lang played it was if he owned it, not even breaking a sweat as he moved through the difficult sections in the first movement (marked Allegro). In the second movement (Andante), he hardly ever looked at the keys, instead appearing to strike scripted poses as he evoked, in his facial expressions, the emotion undoubtedly intended by Bach. At this point, you realize that the artist has developed a complete understanding of the work and of how he wants to convey it to his audience. It is a real show, art in its most fully realized form.
As easily as he played the second movement, the third, despite being a Presto, and maybe even a quicker tempo as he played it, was seemingly no more difficult for him. He did occasionally glance at the keyboard, but, again, it appeared to be all scripted. It was a captivating performance of a work many soloists would not dare to attempt.
But it wasn’t the highlight of the evening. That point came during Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons,” which is rarely played for the obvious reason that it is exceedingly demanding, both for its length and its complexity. The title of the work is misleading, since it consists not of four movements representing the year’s seasons, but of twelve representing the year’s months, from January to December. Each one is an intricate, complex statement, running from three to six minutes. And each is entirely distinct, with no single theme uniting all of them.
Lang played them all with the same kind of choreographed precision. And by the time he had finished the eighth, “August: The Harvest,” which included a placid central portion surrounded by high energy segments, the audience could not contain its applause. Lang broke for just a moment to nod his appreciation and then resumed his command of his instrument with an equally stirring movement entitled, “September: The Hunt.” Its theme was a march with echoing horn calls, and it could have elicited applause as well, since it was a matrix of complexity that he played with the same intensity.
In sum, the work was a marvel to experience, the young master performing it so powerfully and perfectly.
For the second half of his program, Mr. Lang chose to play Chopin’s four Scherzos, which the composer completed in the period from 1830 to 1842. It was a real treat to hear all four played in succession, with the first fiery and of relatively simple construction, and each succeeding one developing more complexity and nuance. The third struck us as the most dynamic and memorable, but the fourth may be the best in terms of showing Chopin’s unique use of the Beethoven model (A-B-A), adding his own sensitivity and range of expression. Lang played them all with the same flawless technique, while delivering a sense of the emotion contained in each.
When he had finished, he accepted the standing ovation with humble bows and appreciative nods to the left, right and center of the hall. He returned to the stage a second and third time, with more acknowledgements to each section of the auditorium. Then, finally, he came out yet again and, this time without announcing his selection, he picked up where he had left off with a delightful encore. It was Chopin’s “Grande Valse Brillante,” which he had also used in his 2012 Mondavi recital.
It was a fitting way to end a triumphant return by a superstar who is a great master of his craft and a superb showman.