[The New Yorker]:Lang Lang & Yundi Li, 300

Another issue of The New Yorker, another full day reading pleasure.

1. Musical Events: The Wow Factor: Lang Lang and Yundi Li at Carnegie Hall. by Alex Ross.

Reading how other people write about music is always an indulgence. The words and phrases sound almost better than the music itself to my ears.

On Lang Lang:

This work(Bartók Second Concerto), written in the wake of nineteen-twenties neoclassicism, sparkles with Baroque-style counterpoint and Classical melodic play. Lang Lang, who deserves credit for taking on such non-standard fare, flew through the music with ease, but his touch was too hard. He tended to bang out chords at the end of a phrase, relying on extraneous accents to give shape to a line rather than finding its inner contour. Bartók’s requests for leggiero, dolce, and grazioso—light, sweet, graceful playing—often went unheeded; p became mf, mf became ff. Only in the final movement were he and the composer fully in synch. Grins broke out in the audience during the climactic passage where the pianist pounds the lower end of the instrument in tandem with the timpani and bass drum.

On Yundi Li:

Yundi Li is a cooler presence. His playing is refined, almost severe. He has an intelligent way of shaping phrases, controlling dynamics, varying articulations. When Liszt uses the word dolcissimo in the score of the First Concerto—as sweetly as possible—Li responds in kind; he’s a more naturally poetic soul than Lang Lang.

In the concerto’s finale , when orchestra and soloist trade dotted rhythms back and forth, Li kept barrelling ahead of the rest of the ensemble; you wanted him to enjoy these showy phrases a little more, pick up a trick or two from the swaggering brass. Still, it was a captivating performance, the kind that you remember as much for its quiet stretches as for its “wow factor,” to borrow a term from “American Idol.” Let’s hope that Li branches out from his favorite Chopin and Liszt. He could deliver a superlative performance of the Bartók Second.

Some funny notes on Lang Lang and Yundi Li’s style:

The two pianists have a few things in common: both were born in China in 1982; both can execute rapid figuration and double octaves with almost irritating ease; both record for the Deutsche Grammophon label; and both are notable for the variety of their hair styles, ranging from the wavy to the spiky and back again. But they’re hardly interchangeable.

2. The Current Cinema: Men Gone Wildby David Denby (reviewiong “300” and “Shooter”)

The funniest line from this review on “300”:

Pop has always drawn energy from the lower floors of respectability; this movie, in which fan-boy cultism reaches new levels of goofy chaos and sexual confusion, draws energy from the subbasement.

Noted that thenewyorker.com just revamped their website. I like it much better. At least it is finally making use of the FULL screen!