Schubert delights, Lang Lang disappoints

Lang Lang Gala Performance, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Opera House Concert Hall. June 27

In October 1828 Franz Schubert started work on a Symphony in D major and, despite the onset of serious illness in November, covered 12 pages in piano score for the first three movements by mid-November (you can see his neat score here at catalogue number D.936a).

Judging by the prolific output of chamber music, song cycles, choral music and piano works of his final two years, he probably would have finished the work by Christmas, but it was not to be and he died on 19 November at the tragically early age of 31.

Lang Lang’s exaggerated style was ill-suited to the Mozart concerto. Credit:Deutsche Grammophon

From these sketches, Italian composer Luciano Berio created Rendering, filling out Schubert's skeletal version with full harmonies and orchestration. Where there are gaps, Berio allows the music to dissolve into a glittering haze marked by the presence of the celeste. The result is a work based on intriguing dualities of time, style and substance. Past alternates with present, tonal with atonal, definite with indefinite and a sense of the rational with the irrational.

David Robertson led the SSO in a beautifully coloured performance of shifting textures and sensibilities. After interval, he led the SSO in another unfinished symphony, indeed the 'Unfinished' Symphony, No. 8 in B minor D 759 written in 1822 and left incomplete for reasons that remain unclear (the prospect of a performance might have helped).

Robertson outlined the work's dramatic terrain, including the calamitous music of the first movement development with a clear sense of structure. The SSO wind players phrased with care and discernment and the transition sections of the second movement were managed with finesse and delicacy.

Lang Lang’s profile has done much to draw people to music, as the capacity audience demonstrated.

In Mozart's Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491, pianist Lang Lang gave a performance of romantic and expressive exaggeration, which, whatever its appeal as spectacle, made few concessions to the music's underlying logic.

In the first movement, where ideas are handed from orchestra to soloist, he would pull back the tempo to focus on his own part at the expense of a natural musical dialogue in which ideas are developed.

Lang Lang's profile has done much to draw people to music as the capacity audience here demonstrated, but on the basis of this performance he cannot be regarded as a significant Mozart interpreter.

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