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3 Apr 2011
Duet Show with Lang Lang, Herbie Hancock, John Axelrod and the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire

April 3, 2011


Duet Show with Lang Lang, Herbie Hancock, John Axelrod and the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire


by Simon Corley

Culminating in a "carte blanche" that the Salle Pleyel and the Cité de la Musique dedicated to Lang Lang since March 24, and during which he has almost done all he can do with piano (Concerto with Christoph Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris, recital with Roberto Alagna, chamber music with Roland and Emmanuel Daugareil Gaugué, pedagogy with Francois Castang), Lang Lang - already announced on 3 October and next February 7,  respectively with Riccardo Chailly and Alan Gilbert - with a black suit like a clergyman, Lang Lang invited Herbie Hancock, in an aubergine suit and tie for an unexpected night and promised something beyond crossover, one of those improbable meetings that only the music seems to allow, between a classical pianist from China and African-American jazz musician, triumphantly welcomed by a packed Salle Pleyel.

And not only two pianos, at least in part, but in what the duo could have closer and even more intimate, with four hands. Classically trained - at eleven, Hancock gave the first movement of Mozart's Fifth Concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra - Hancock, however, fully relies on his partner, which although taking turns secondo and primo, still retains control of the pedal, as in the Mother Goose (1910) Ravel, and in the arrangement by Liszt himself of his Second Hungarian Rhapsody (1847/1874).  But if the performance, sometimes gave the impression of a sight-reading, and has perhaps suffered from a lack of work and coordination, the American did appreciate his sense of phrasing in "The Conversations of Beauty and the Beast "with the finesse of his touch in the chirping of" Tom Thumb ", the tintinnabulations" Ugly Girl, Empress of the Pagodas "and the glissandi of the" Fairy Garden. "  Lang Lang may in turn engage in some hammering, and mannerisms and antics, as at the end of "Ugly Girl" as it imposes an accelerando in the final steps to conclude unison on four excessively percussive chords, causing both the enthusiasm of spectators and the premature return of lights. And why did they choose this cascade Lisztian traits where the superiority of the young virtuoso was both predictable and obvious, as in that famous episode of Tom and Jerry?

Remained in the dark all this time, the National Orchestra of Pays de la Loire (ONPL) opened the concert with more than a curtain raiser, actually, because if the training does not sound outstanding, the interpretation of Roman Carnival (1838/1844) by Berlioz proved a pleasant surprise under a baton full of pep and swing by Axelrod (b. 1966), music director for starting this season. Just before intermission, Axelrod led a Fifth Hungarian Dance (1869) of Brahms plus the participation of two pianists: having embarked on a short introduction where the arpeggios met in a friendly game, they had fun adding their comments to the orchestration which was done by Albert Parlow (1876). Not necessarily good taste but how can we not rejoice in this fun and spirit?

Early in the second part, the Texna chef gives even more of a boost in the opening Carnival Overture(1891) of Dvorák than Berlioz, before joining the high chair placed for him at the side of the podium to watch the events, which is doubtless familiar, having accompanied the artists on tour in the summer of 2009. Lang Lang is the first that does not force his talent in classical arrangements of three traditional Chinese pieces (including Axelrod translating the titles) in the continuity of his album "Dragon Songs" published some years ago. Under his fingers, Autumn Moon on a Calm Lake of Lu Wencheng (1898-1891) could almost pass for Debussy or Ravel, colorful clouds chasing the moon Wang Jianzhong (b. 1933) seems more anecdotal while Dance Spring Sun Yiqiang (born 1945) adopts a strange essence of tango.

After cheering successively Lang Lang - "It's amazing, right?" - Then the musicians and the Leader - "This band is amazing! Axelrod is also amazing! " Hancock, who will turn seventy in ten days, moved to second keyboard (courtyard) for just one long improvisation; but, under the eye of the Chinese pianist, who took off his jacket. Then followed an excellent transition to Rhapsody in Blue (1924), this time with two pianos, before Axelrod started a fire with the ONPL, who offered excellent solos in the clarinet, trumpet and trombone. This version takes a bit of ping-pong or unison, and distributes the original solo part between two pianos instead of one. But that's exactly what's right for such a meeting: more rhapsodic than ever, the work of Gershwin is further enhanced by the interventions that the two take the time to knit, to the absolute joy of the public.

Standing ovation, flowers, autograph hunters at the foot of the plateau, things obviously cannot stop there. And this 'duet show "is fully developed in his way of highlighting the encores. "What would you do?" asked Hancock. "Chopin Etudes. He can do anything! "Exclaims Lang Lang, whose fingers move at full speed during the Fifth (for black keys) of the twelve Etudes of Opus 10 (1830), while at the other piano, jazz is heard alternately or simultaneously. Coming back on stage arm in arm with his elder icon, Lang Lang suggests a reference to the second bis: "Still Gershwin?" It's a good idea! " answers Hancock. A good idea, probably, but one thing is certain: we are not likely to hear again this unique duo around the last of the Three Preludes (1926).

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