Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
1:00 AM 6th April 2024

Classical French Music Lang Lang Plays Saint-Saëns

Lang Lang Plays Saint-Saëns

Saint-Saëns: Le carnaval des animaux; Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 22; Six Études Op; The Swan (Arr. Naoumoff for Piano 4 Hands); Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte; Debussy: Petite Suite; Fauré:Pavane; Requiem, Op. 48 In paradisium (Arr. Naoumoff for Piano); Delibes: Lakmé Flower Duet (Arr. Naoumoff for Piano);Farrenc: Etudes (30), Op. 26;Sohy: Pièces (4) romantiques, Op. 30; Tailleferre: Valse Lente;Bonis: Miocheries, Op. 126; Boulanger, L: D'un jardin clair

Lang Lang, Gina Alice Pianos.
Gewandhausorchester, Andris Nelsons

Deutsche Grammophon 4859224

I don't quite know what to make of this disc. I keep listening to it and as a double CD set it certainly has merits and flaws although, overall, it is a disc that has a lot to commend it to a wider audience. It may not appeal to main stream classical music aficionados. However, why should that matter?

There are times when classical music must wake up and realise that, despite the foibles of a particular recording, it can be an excellent means of expanding the genre for a larger audience. Surely, not a bad philosophy?

My objection is to Deutsche Grammophon’s marketing and copywriting teams. They seem to have lost a sense of sophistication; do they think that marketing to the lowest common denominator is the best route? Jargon and glossy pictures are not the way forward. The Church of England made this mistake and has not recovered. Of course, Lang Lang has a following akin to an international pop star, and justly so, but let’s not compare apples with pears.

Let’s get real and realise the huge potential that Lang Lang and partners can do in opening up classical music to a diverse audience that may perceive the field as 'stuck up’ or worse, ‘pretentious’, something Lang Lang is successfully trying to dispel.

Lang Lang is not aided in this recording, despite the number of recording engineers with a balance between orchestra and piano.

But the repertoire is wonderful, and he sets about delving into the menagerie with his wife, pianist Gina Alice, for Saint-Saëns' Le Carnaval des animaux. It has its moments, although it is humourless at times and a little ponderous in outlook. It starts well: the 'Lion’s March', has some fine contributions from the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. 'The Elephant' is disappointing: the piano should be secondary to the double bass, the balance is disappointing; but in the other track where a solo instrument (cello) has the principal tune (The Swan), the balance is right. Both soloists demonstrate their dexterity and agility, and among all the movements, the 'Aquarium' is beautifully played. There are times when it can just be a little too clinical such as the in-movement 'The Pianists'.

Then comes Saint-Saëns' gorgeous Piano Concerto No. 2, - a glorious work. Andris Nelson and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra are present, perhaps not in spirit, but the performance is still not bad.

Also included are a number of wonderful French gems, and despite an air of ambivalence, there seems to be a lack of emotional attachment, although in a four-hand arrangement of Debussy's Petite Suite, there is nuance and litheness.

Complementing the standard French classics are a couple of hidden gems – solo works by five female French composers

Taken as an introductory disc for French composers, it works well.