RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F# minor, Op. 1. Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18.
Krystian Zimerman, pianist; Boston Symphony Orch/Seiji Ozawa, cond.

CORIGLIANO: Fantasia on an ostinato for solo piano. BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31 No. 2 "The Tempest." Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra in C minor, Op. 80 "Choral Fantasy." PÄRT: "Credo" for piano, mixed choir and orchestra
Hélène Grimaud, pianist; Swedish Radio Choir; Swedish Radio Symphony Orch/Esa-Pekka Salonen, cond.

SCHUMANN: Abegg-Variationen, Op. 1.Träumerei. HAYDN: Sonata in C, Hob. XVI:50. SCHUBERT: Fantasia in C, D. 760 "Wanderer Fantasy." DUN: Eight Memories in Watercolor, Op. 1. CHOPIN: Nocturne in D-flat, Op. 27 No. 2. LISZT: Rémininiscences du Don Juan de Mozart, S. 418. Liebestraum, S. 541 No. 3. Horses after Hang Hai Hwai. Chen Rao Xing and Shen Li Qun arr. by Lang Lang and Lang Guo-ren.
Lang Lang, pianist, recorded live in Carnegie Hall November 7, 2003
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON B0002047 (F) (2 CDs for the price of one) (DDD) TT: 68:24 & 29:12

Krystin Zimerman's recordings of concerted works cover a wide range of composers: Beethoven (the first three concertos conducted by Leonard Bernstein), Chopin (both concertos with Carlo Maria Giulini and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a second recording conducting them from the keyboard), Lutoslawski (with the composer); Ravel (with Pierre Boulez), the Schumann and Grieg (with Herbert von Karajan), and a dazzling Liszt concertos 1 and 2 and Totentanz, the last three recorded in April 1987 with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony). Now we have Zimmerman's first Rachmaninoff recordings, Concerto No. 1 recorded in December 1997, No. 2 in December 2000. Both are magnificent, romantic performances. Zimerman's virtuosity is always at the service of the music, luxuriating in the composer's rhapsodic writing. Concerto No. 1 is particularly dynamic, and the opening piano flourish at the beginning of the third movement of Concerto No. 2 (repeated just before the coda) is dazzling indeed. Ozawa's accompaniments are superb, and the Boston Symphony is in top form. Many people were involved in production of these recordings. Dr. Marion Thiem was Executive Producer, Recording Producers were Arend Prohmann (No. 1) and Helmut Burk (No. 2), Balance Engineers were Ulrich Vette (No. 1) and Rainer Maillard (N. 2), and Recording Engineers were Klaus Behrens (No. 1) and Reinhard Lagemann (No. 2)—and there were four others involved in "editing." They all did their work well, producing brilliant piano sound, although the Concerto No. 2 is a bit overly resonant with low bass lacking definition. CD notes include a fascinating interview with Zimerman talking about his introduction to Rachmaninoff's concertos and his feeling that the composer's own recording of the Concerto No. 2 is overly subdued. When asked if he also would record the third and fourth concertos (no mention is made of the Paganini Rhapsody), Zimmerman states he feels he isn't ready yet to do it—yet.

Helene Grimaud's first recording for her new label, Deutsche Grammophon, is memorable in many ways. It's an odd combination of works focusing for the most part on Beethoven, the Sonata No. 17 and Choral Fantasy, as well as the John Corigliano's Fantasia which has as its foundation the theme from the second movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. This is a twelve-minute intimate work that doesn't sound very difficult to perform considering that it was composed for the Van Cliburn Competition more than a quarter-century ago. It seems an appropriate introduction for Beethoven's Tempest sonata, which receives a rather subdued performance, in contrast to the Choral Fantasy which receives a bold reading. The recording ends with Arvo Pärt's Credo, composed in 1968 "when he was renouncing his early serialism in favour of the musical austerity for which he is now best known." This 17-minute work (almost three minutes longer than Nemee Järvi's Chandos recording) for piano, mixed choir and orchestra contrasts the simplicity of Bach's C-major prelude with savage choral outbursts. Grimaud has a rare condition known as synesthesia and, supposedly, "hears" colors. The Choral Fantasy, she states, is a spiral of black, green, red and yellow, the sonata definitely black and blue, the Corigliano mostly red, and the Credo an alternation of black and green. Her philosophy on life, which focuses on conservation and advocacy for wildlife—particularly wolves—is stated in an interview in CD notes. All admirable indeed, but what counts is her elegant style of playing. Salonen and his forces provide excellent support. The two choral works were recorded live in September 2003. Among CD credits we have a type of listing I've never noticed before: "Hélène Grimaud's suit by Balenciaga." This is a provocative CD that should attract many collectors.

Piano artistry of considerably lesser stature is heard on Lang Lang's Carnegie Hall recital recorded live November 7, 2003. The young (21 at the time of this recording) Chinese pianist surely has a formidable technique, much in evidence on this program, particularly the Liszt Don Juan Fantasy, but his playing generally is superficial. Schumann's Abegg Variations and Haydn's Sonata No. 50 are chiseled—and unimaginative—perfection. Likewise, Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy here is a heartless technical showpiece. Fifteen minutes of the program is taken by Chinese composer Tan Dun's Eight Memories in Watercolor, his Opus 1, mostly meditative in nature and of limited appeal. There's no question of Lang's virtuosity in his performance of Liszt's Don Juan Fantasy but overpedaling blurs bass, and there always is an element of coquetry. To hear what this music is about, listen to recordings by Simon Barere, Marc-André Hamelin, John Ogdon or Earl Wild. The two most successful performances in this recital are Chopin's D-flat nocturne and the first encore, Schumann's Träumerei. Another encore is Horses (after pieces by Huang Hai Hwai, Chen Rao Xing and Shen Li Qun), arranged by Lang Lang and his father, Lang Guo-ren, who joins his son in this odd piece playing a traditional Chinese bowed instrument called the erhu. Some weird sounds here, that perhaps some will find intriguing. An indulgent performance of Liszt's Liebestraum follows. Lang Lang's finest recording remains his first, a recital disk on Telarc at the beginning of his celebrity. His later recordings of concertos of Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn are glib and mannered, as is this recital, a twin-CD set that sells for the price of one.

R.E.B. (March 2004)