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Album review: Lang Lang dances cheek to cheek with favourite composer Frédérick Chopin

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Lang Lang’s new all-Chopin album for Sony Classical is to be officially released on Oct. 9 (AP Photo/Alex Brandon).

Lang Lang, the world’s rock star of classical piano, knows how to please an audience with charisma and verve that is as infectious for a pop-concert crowd as a classical one. But sometimes the music itself gets distorted along the way. Is it the same story with his new all-Chopin album?

Lang has used the music of Frédérick Chopin (1810-1849) as his secret weapon since childhood. Now 30, the pianist has explored every nook and cranny of this naturally lyrical, Romantic music that helped define the art of the solo pianist during the modern instrument’s infancy.

Every single serious piano student at some point confronts the music of Chopin, and nearly every classical music listener is, at some point, seduced by its operatic melodies, soaring lyricism and overt virtuosity.

This is music that can caress, exhort, move and elevate when the right person mixes the ingredients just right.

There are hundreds of perfectly decent recordings of Chopin out there, each in some way a window on the pianist’s soul as much as being a conduit for the pieces themselves.

Seen in that light, Lang’s Chopin Album is a showcase for the very best of this remarkable artist.

The pianist’s technique is phenomenal, but he deploys it here in the service of grace and elegance more than dazzling fireworks. And where he can over indulge in melodrama in live performance, Lang reigned it in during his June studio sessions in Germany.

The is naturally melodramatic music, so Lang has wisely stuck to the composer’s instructions while always adding his own little rhythmic or phrasing twist.

The dozen Op. 25 Etudes are exciting. To them, Lang has added three Nocturnes, sweetly rendered. The Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise fare a bit less well as Lang puts too much attention on spicing up the Polonaise with flashes of virtuosity.

There are two waltzes (The Op. 18 Grande Valse Brillante and the “Minute” Waltz) where Lang goes a bit over the top, turning these whipped confections of three-four-time abandon into slightly gritty fudge.

The album’s encore is “Tristesse,” a song collaboration with Denmark’s Oh Land. Because the current fashion in pop singing dislikes long melodies, what little there is left of Chopin in this piece is pretty much demolished along the way.

Encore aside, this is Chopin that is fun, lively, rendered with emotion on shirtcuff but with a sense of proportion and poise. It should make even more converts to the Cult of Lang Lang without having others begrudge it.

For the already converted, there is a limited edition of the album available that includes a DVD with video footage of Lang using his love of Chopin to win over audiences and competition judges from an early age.

The album’s website has all sorts of extra information, including samples from each track.

Here is a promotional video for the album:

John Terauds

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