Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 swings with reckless glee from pounding, mechanical futurism to exaggerated lyricism to sardonic comment to dreamy, floating atmosphere. It makes extraordinary demands on the soloist, especially in speed. Prokofiev wrote it for himself, in 1921, for a premiere in Chicago. Wednesday night in Milwaukee, it sounded as if Prokofiev wrote it for Lang Lang.
Lang joined Edo de Waart and the Milwaukee Symphony in this concerto, at a one-shot, big-ticket program at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall. S0loist, orchestra and conductor meshed perfectly and combined enormous energy with great precision.
Lang and de Waart made a riotous brawl of the ending of the first movement. They generated so much excitement and momentum that the audience burst into a rousing ovation at the end. The fans knew better; they were properly quiet between movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, which preceded the concerto. They just couldn’t contain their excitement for some very good reasons, and nothing about that outburst was naïve or indecorous. It was genuine and right for the moment.
The pianist’s pedaling and touch drew ethereal mists from the piano in the hypnotic first and fourth variations of the slow movement, and a hilarious, heavy-footed gallop from it in the third variation. Lang grasped the character of each variation and realized it fully, in the way a great actor brings big a character to full stature.
Prokofiev celebrates the Machine Age at the outset of the finale, and the orchestra and pianist together sounded like an automated foundry at full tilt. That racket butts against the most poetic bit of the concerto, a piano interlude that in Lang’s hands sounded like some half-remembered Chopin at his dreamiest.
Maybe, nine years ago when we first heard Lang Lang in Milwaukee, he was a vastly talented, out-of-control showboat. No more. Now, at 27, he is one of the world’s greatest pianists.
In addition to the engaging reprise of Beethoven’s Sixth, which de Waart and the MSO played so well just a few weeks ago, the orchestra played Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture. A coiled spring of an opening chord launched a reading of exceptional intensity.
This was a special, non-subscription concert. The MSO will resume its subscription series Friday through Sunday. For more on that program, and for a bit more on Lang Lang, please click here.
PS: My only disappointment Wednesday was that Lang Lang did not wear his new Adidas autograph sneakers. Maybe next time.