Lang Lang | The Auditorium, Rome | 23 October, 2010

After stunning audiences during the Lang Lang Fest, a concert marathon of four shows on consecutive evenings last summer, superstar pianist Lang Lang made a welcome return visit to the Auditorium Parco della Musica on Saturday evening in the first of a three concert stint in celebration of Chopin in what is the composer's 200th anniversary year.

On his last visit to Rome, Lang Lang closed the festival with a wonderful performance of Chopin's Piano Concerto No.1, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. This time around Antonio Pappano, the ebullient musical director of the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, was at the helm as Lang Lang and the Santa Cecilia Orchestra once again performed Chopin's early masterpiece.

As a classical performer, Lang Lang is an extremely rare breed – not only does he fill concert halls the world over, he also sells huge amounts of records. Indeed, when he made the move from the classical music label Deutsche Grammophon earlier this year and signed a new record contract with Sony Music, the sums of money involved in the transfer – several million dollars, it was rumoured - are more usually associated with the sale of football players! In spite of his staggering success, however, Lang Lang has often polarised critical opinion, with his showmanship and on stage gestures irritating some stuffier critics. Reviews of his most recent CD however, have seen a recent mellowing towards him. As Nicholas Kenyon said recently in the Observer:
It's become rather fashionable to sniff at the achievements of Lang Lang, but he is the most communicative pianist of his generation […] the technical command is peerless and the emotional warmth envelops us. He is surely the Horowitz of our generation.

This was the fourth time that I've seen Lang Lang play and anybody who has read my previous reviews here will have understood that I'm a huge fan. Saturday's performance, however, may well have been the finest that I've seen so far. I've never been in the least bit bothered by Lang Lang's movements on stage, but it has to be said that this time there were far fewer gestures and a poetic intensity to his playing that was breathtaking. The second movement was simply magical. That he is still so young – he turned twenty-eight in June - and is showing all the signs of entering a new phase of technical maturity, is a wonderful thought. The very best may still be yet to come!

Rapturous applause from the audience and foot stamping from the orchestra on stage brought him back out for several curtain calls and an exhilarating encore that had the air of an impromptu display of bravura which demonstrated just how much Lang Lang loves to perform! Catch him in concert if you possibly can!

In what has become a tradition with Lang Lang concerts and something that brings him closer to rock musicians than traditional classical music performers, he once again made a personal appearance in the book shop at the Auditorium after the concert to meet and greet fans and sign copies of his CDs – total fan-girl that I am, I queued in line and was thrilled to exchange a few words with the man himself!

Full programme: The concert was rounded out with Rossini's Semiramide as the opening piece, and closed by a thrilling performance of Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz, energetically conducted by Pappano, which was also met with cheers of approval.