Concert review

The crowds poured into Benaroya Hall on Wednesday evening to hear Lang Lang, possibly the most famous pianist on the planet, wow them with his fabulous technique.

What they heard was a keyboard artist whose technique is only one of the many weapons in his arsenal. Once dubbed “Bang Bang” because of his youthful propensity for fast, loud and flashy, Lang Lang (now 37) gave his Seattle Symphony audience a Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 2 of exquisite refinement and remarkable nuance.

Certainly the technique was there, in the incredible ease of his passage work and the sheer brilliance of his first-movement cadenza, but so were the pianist’s mastery of amazing subtleties and his control of dynamics. Lang Lang held his audience in rapt silence as he spun out lines of such crystalline delicacy that the end of the second (Adagio) movement seemed to vanish into the air. This is a pianist who is fun to watch: in portions of the concerto scored for the right hand alone, Lang Lang used his expressive left hand to almost conduct himself as he played.

Music director Thomas Dausgaard gave the soloist the kind of line-by-line, note-by-note attention that supported him without ever overwhelming. Frequently turning to the pianist to observe every nuance, he matched Lang Lang pianissimo for pianissimo, and rose with him to the more rollicking passages of the finale.

Pianist Lang Lang and Seattle Symphony Music Director Thomas Dausgaard. (James Holt / Seattle Symphony)
Pianist Lang Lang and Seattle Symphony Music Director Thomas Dausgaard. (James Holt / Seattle Symphony)

The ovation that followed the concerto was rewarded by a single encore: Lang Lang returned to the stage for a speedy, fluent account of Mendelssohn’s “Spinning Song” (from the “Songs without Words,” Op. 67, No. 4).

Dausgaard opened the concert with a few well-chosen observations about the program, which began with a brief but charming Sibelius “Andante festivo.” In his remarks, the conductor reminded the audience that the 18-year-old Beethoven was at work on his Piano Concerto No. 2 during 1788, the same year that the 32-year-old Mozart was writing his last and grandest symphony, the great “Jupiter” Symphony. What a fountain of musical ideas Mozart poured into that music! Dausgaard urged the orchestra to go deeply into the expressive phrases of the symphony’s second movement, and brought forth the light precision of the third and the majesty of the finale.

Lang Lang was featured on one night only, but Symphony fans have more opportunities to hear Dausgaard conduct the Mozart “Jupiter” Symphony — alongside Bach’s merry Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 and the U.S. premiere of a work by Olga Neuwirth — in two other concerts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Saturday.

 

This story has been updated with the correct composer of “Spinning Song.”