Prom 60: Lang Lang / Marc Yu
Prom 61: Verdi's Requiem - BBCSO/Bělohlávek / Urmana / DeYoung / Calleja / d'Arcangelo - Royal Albert Hall, 31 August 2008
Mozart Sonata No.13 in B flat major, K.333
Rachmaninov Prelude in G minor, Op.23 No.5; Prelude in Bb Major, Op.23 No.2
Chopin Grand Polonaise in E-flat major
Schubert Fantasia in F minor for piano duet, D940
Debussy Preludes, Book 1 - La fille aux cheveux de lin; Les collines d'Anacapri
Traditional Chinese Moonlight Reflections; Spring Dance
Liszt transc. Horowitz Hungarian Rhapsody No.2, S.244
Encore: Chopin Étude Op.10 No.3 in E major
Why would Lang Lang want to share the stage with a child pianist? Marc Yu is undeniably gifted and technically brilliant - for a 9 year old - but nowhere near the finished article. He's got all the moves, but nothing more than accomplished mimicry to present. And to be ruthlessly objective, with his miniature hands, most of the serious concert repertoire is simply beyond his physical capabilities right now anyway. Some day he might be the next Barenboim, but right now he's a novelty act, a mini-maestro in a tiny black suit.
Giving over a substantial chunk of his recital time to a duet with little Marc was generous of Lang Lang, but it also switched the focus unequivocally from performance to performer. Hardly the smartest move when you're repeatedly criticised for insubstantial showboating.
I hear something in Lang Lang that makes me think he's an immensely talented and, yes, sensitive pianist, but his frustratingly blingy performances are more often dazzling than illuminating.
He began promisingly with a Mozart sonata - hardly a revelatory performance, but at least it wasn't thumped out like the crudely-hewn Rachmaninov that followed. Coordination was surprisingly poor in the centrepiece Schubert duet - very much two pianists rather than four hands.
Lizst's gloriously bright and splashy Hungarian Rhapsody is perfectly tailored to the ever-present showman in Lang Lang, but it was only with the Chopin, and particularly the E major Étude he encored with, that there was a glimpse of sensitivity and true accomplishment.
When I arrived, a couple of hours before the start, the day tickets queue was already stretching way down Prince Consort Road. As anyone could have predicted with one of the world's most popular pianists on the bill.
But TV is God, and so at least a hundred queuers were excluded because the piano was placed, not on the normal stage, but on a camera-friendly makeshift platform that is normally standing space in the centre of the Arena (and which also compelled the performers to enter through the audience).
Even though the TV cameras left with Lang Lang, the d-i-y boxing ring was still in place for the evening performance of Verdi's Requiem, again squeezing some concert goers out, and crushing the rest of us into the whiffy armpits of our fellow prommers. Sometimes I wonder why the BBC don't just do the whole thing from a studio. But at least it was a rewarding performance.
With a double choir of nearly 300, the explosive Dies irae had undeniable impact, though the quieter choral moments lumbered unwieldily, dragging at the skirts of what was otherwise a sprightly reading. Bělohlávek lit a fire under the BBCSO, and the soloists were excellent.
Michelle DeYoung's otherwordly radiance was a slightly odd match with bingo gran Violeta Urmana's more traditionally operatic approach, and they sounded better alone than together. Urmana's final Libera me was a heartfelt and moving prayer, bravely nuanced. Though some thin top notes marked her limits, this was the best singing I've heard from her in a long time.
Joseph Calleja's ringing, flexible tenor was, oddly, more imposing than the anxious-looking Ildebrando d'Arcangelo's light bass. And both shrivelled like shrimps before the might of Urmana, but otherwise these were both thoughtful and well-judged ensemble performances.
Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody performed by a true master. Including a lesson on handling pesky coughers at 1:10: