Lang Lang, "The Mozart Album" (Sony Masterworks)
This double-CD set is the first all-Mozart recording from the Chinese-born piano virtuoso Lang Lang, who at age 32 has achieved something approaching matinee idol popularity for his performances of classical music.
He's also enjoyed unusual cross-over success: This year alone he popped up at the World Cup concert in Rio de Janeiro, where he appeared with tenor Placido Domingo, and at the Grammy Awards, where he performed with Metallica.
Until now, Lang Lang's prodigious technique and charisma have seemed best suited to composers of the 19th century romantic repertory, including Liszt and Chopin. So for this foray into Mozart, he was wise to choose conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, a specialist in 17th and 18th century music, as his collaborator.
On the first CD, Harnoncourt and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra accompany Lang Lang in two concertos, the sunny No. 17 in G major and the majestic No. 24 in C minor, the latter one of Mozart's greatest compositions. Lang Lang plays the solo parts with a restraint that is no doubt due in part to Harnoncourt's careful shaping of the musical line.
The pianist is on his own for the second disc, a solo tour through three sonatas, plus some shorter works, including the Allegro for Piano in F major, that was written when Mozart was just eight and clocks in at a mere 56 seconds.
Here the results are less consistent. Lang Lang's technique is never in question: Note how fearlessly and accurately he races through the familiar Rondo alla turca. But occasionally his penchant for the dramatic — a particularly emphatic crescendo here, a stretched-out melodic phrase there — threatens to overwhelm these elegant pieces.