Pianist hopes album will hit right note with young
Classical favorites, musical discoveries and a pair of captivating large-scale works by Saint-Saëns make up the selection of French works on Lang Lang's latest recording "Lang Lang – Saint-Saëns."
It is a joint effort by the Gewandhausorchester and conductor Andris Nelsons, as well as Lang's wife, pianist Gina Alice.
At the heart of the album are the Carnival of the Animals, Saint-Saëns's "Grand Zoological Fantasy" for two pianos and orchestra, and the virtuosic Piano Concerto No. 2.
Also included are a dozen works for solo piano or piano four hands – a blend of Belle Époque favourites and neglected gems by female French composers.
"Aquarium" from Carnival of the Animals, accompanies by a video, has already been released as a single this week.
Lang's decision to open the album with a work that has enchanted generations of young listeners reflects his mission to attract children to the genre.
"Many of us remember Saint-Saëns's famous Carnival of the Animals from childhood," said Lang. "There are a lot of clever ideas underneath all the fun. He's making a real statement, but in a very humorous way."
The 14-movement musical bestiary was written at speed in 1886. Its parodies of music by, among others, Rossini, Offenbach, Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns himself, was apparently intended for the amusement of his students. It received several performances before being shelved to spare Saint-Saëns from losing his reputation as a "serious" artist.
The album ends with Émile Naoumoff's arrangement for piano four hands, with both parts played by Lang.
Lang calls Saint-Saëns's Second Piano Concerto a "magnificent but underrated Romantic masterpiece." He was first drawn to its fusion of Germanic Romanticism and Gallic flair during his student days.
"I always liked this piece," he recalls. "The opening is a tribute to Bach and the first movement has slow cadenzas as well as regular fast passages.
"The second movement is a scherzo, almost like Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream and the finale is very virtuosic, like Bach and Franz Liszt combined. It's almost an organ concerto, but it also has these delicate French elements."
The album, set for release by Deutsche Grammophon in March, also shines light on music by five female French composers largely overlooked until recent years.
Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), arguably the most famous among them, became the first woman to win the coveted Prix de Rome. Lang, making a close acquaintance with music by French women composers for the first time, gives a spellbinding performance of Boulanger's sublimely beautiful D'un jardin clair.
Lang said he will be performing Saint-Saëns's Piano Concerto No. 2 throughout the 2023-24 season, including the forthcoming performances in Tokyo, Yokohama, Hong Kong, London, and a German tour in March.