New Classical Tracks

New Classical Tracks - Liszt, Piano Hero

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
October 18, 2011
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St. Paul, Minn. — "For me he's my piano hero because he made such a unique career as a pianist." That's Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang, who's recently released a new recording titled, "Liszt, My Piano Hero," his personal tribute to the great Romantic performer and composer who turned the piano into a new dimension. "He created the piano recital, basically playing two hours of piano only," explains Lang Lang. "It was unheard of before his time. Also, because of his amazing ability on the keys, the piano as an instrument developed faster."

Lang Lang was first introduced to the music of Franz Liszt when he was just a toddler watching a Tom and Jerry Cartoon, "Yes, I heard Liszt when I was very little, around two years old. And I heard the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Liszt, played by Tom the cat. But obviously at that time, I didn't know who Liszt was. I only knew him when I was five years old, when I played one of his children's songs called 'Little Hungarian.'" In the mid 19th century Franz Liszt wrote 15 so-called Hungarian Rhapsodies to imitate the gypsy groups he heard growing up in Hungary. Two of those works appear on this tribute recording. Lang Lang has grown up with the Rhapsody No. 6. He started playing this piece as a child, studying different effects in the famous octave passage, a true test of endurance for any pianist. For Lang Lang, it's all in a day's work. Lang Lang's interpretation of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 was inspired by Vladimir Horowitz's arrangement of the piece. When he was just a teenager, Lang Lang heard the CD of Horowitz playing it and was just bowled over by it. He was determined to learn this virtuosic showcase which features a setting of the Hungarian Rakoczy March.

As a boy, Lang Lang compared Franz Liszt to Elvis Presley - he was wild and women idolized him. Liszt did lead a thrilling life, and some of that excitement reverberates in one of his best-known works, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major. Liszt had long tapered fingers, and amazing technique which made him a piano god. Liszt was the soloist when this work premiered in Weimar in 1855 with his friend Hector Berlioz conducting. The performance on this new release was recorded live last summer with Valery Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic. Lang Lang has performed this work numerous times as he marks the bicentennial of the composer's birth this year, so he has it well under his fingertips. The orchestra sparkles underneath Lang Lang's expressive performance.

Franz Liszt traveled across Europe of his day performing more than a thousand concerts in his lifetime, sometimes playing three or four times a week. He played for kings, princes, counts, and for the Queen of England as well as the Tsar of Russia. His "Grand Galop Chromatique" was his "war-horse" bravura piece that brought the house down during those concert tours. Lang Lang is in his element as he sails up and down the keyboard on this grand galop.

Be sure to listen closely to Lang Lang's tender interpretation of the poetic Consolation No. 3. Lang Lang is known for his showy, virtuosic displays, yet here is a wonderful example of his ability to pull back and display the artful beauty beneath the music.

Franz Liszt fearlessly forged a new trail for classical music. He was a piano god, and an inventive composer and teacher who opened the door to modern music. Lang Lang calls him his piano hero, and he pays tribute to this musical icon with a recording that will give you hours of pleasure.

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