THERE is a big divide in the classical world over 23-year-old pianist Lang Lang. Some recoil from his alleged musical liberties and physical eccentricities at the keyboard. Others think he is tonic for an art form often derided as staid and increasingly out of touch with the real world.
In any case, consciously or not, Lang has figured out how to get attention, and he drew a nearly packed crowd into Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday night for a Los Angeles Philharmonic Chamber Music Society concert.
It was a demonstrative crowd too, bursting into applause in the middle of the second movement of the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio and relishing the moment when its young hero exuberantly announced, "This is the first performance of the L.A. Chinese Trio!" (Which was true, since Lang's Philharmonic cohorts were violinist Bing Wang, from Shanghai, and cellist Ben Hong, from Taiwan.)
The choice of the Tchaikovsky trio seemed geared to a star soloist, for within its two giant movements (the second lasts nearly half an hour) lurks a busy, perhaps even dominant, piano part. Yet Lang proved to be a good listener, often subduing his liquid tone while coloring accompanying passages imaginatively.
Wang and Hong hung on tightly, following every pianistic rubato, asserting themselves at the right times. This was a real trio in action. Alas, Lang's feeling for rhythm wasn't very keen -- he glided through the Valse and Mazurka stages with a shapeless legato -- but Wang's incisive playing made up for a lot of that. The three added the second movement of the Mendelssohn D-minor Trio as an encore.
Shostakovich's Quartet No. 14 can be seen as a breather of sorts between the harrowing 13th and the death rattles of the 15th. Yet in the hands of violinists Mark Baranov and Varty Manouelian, violist Hui Liu and cellist Barry Gold, much of Tuesday's performance, particularly the first movement, sounded unfocused and out of balance .
Though Baranov projected the bleakness of the writing well in the work's later stages, the main problem, ultimately, was the hall, which is too large and reverberant for such intimate, inward music.