​Lang Lang's new album explores French classics

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, November 13, 2023
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Renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang announced that his new album, "Lang Lang – Saint-Saëns," is set for release in March 2024. "Aquarium," the first single, and its music video were unveiled on Nov. 10.

Album cover art for "Lang Lang – Saint-Saëns." [Image courtesy of Universal Music Group]

The new album, to be released by Deutsche Grammophon on two CDs, two LPs, and digitally, features collaborations with Lang Lang's wife, pianist Gina Alice, the Gewandhausorchester, and Andris Nelsons.

Classical favorites, musical discoveries, and two captivating large-scale works by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns constitute the exceptional array of French pieces on Lang Lang's most recent recording. 

At the core of the album lies the enchanting musical suite "Carnival of the Animals," Saint-Saëns' grand zoological fantasy for two pianos and orchestra, and the virtuosic "Piano Concerto No. 2." The collection also encompasses a dozen solo and duet compositions, featuring a mix of Belle Époque favorites and overlooked gems by female French composers.

The single "Aquarium" from "Carnival of the Animals" was released with an accompanying video on Nov. 10. Subsequent releases will include the "Flower Duet" from "Lakmé" on Dec. 8, Tailleferre's "Valse lente" on Jan. 12, 2024, the piano four hands version of Saint-Saëns' "The Swan" on Feb. 9, and "Fossils" alongside the full album on March 1.

Lang Lang's decision to open the album with "Carnival of the Animals," a piece that has enchanted generations of young listeners and introduced millions to classical music, reflects his mission to attract children to the genre. "Many of us remember Saint-Saëns' famous 'Carnival of the Animals' from childhood. There are a lot of clever ideas underneath all the fun. He's making a real statement, but in a very humorous way," explained the pianist. "And of course it was wonderful to record it with my wife, Gina Alice."

For Gina Alice, the recording sessions were a personal milestone. "I have been admiring both Andris Nelsons and the Gewandhausorchester for years," she noted. "Collaborating with them was a great honor, and I wanted to give my best and enjoy every moment of it. Practicing and recording this piece together with Lang Lang felt like another dimension of communication."

Composed hastily in 1886, Saint-Saëns' 14-movement musical bestiary, "Carnival of the Animals," features parodies of renowned composers like Rossini and Offenbach. Initially intended for his students' amusement, it gained popularity posthumously, becoming a favorite among concertgoers. The penultimate number, "The Swan," originally published during the composer's lifetime for cello and two pianos, is another notable highlight. The album concludes with Émile Naoumoff's piano four hands arrangement, with both parts played by Lang.

Lang calls Saint-Saëns' "Piano Concerto No. 2" a "magnificent but underrated Romantic masterpiece." He was first drawn to its fusion of Germanic Romanticism and Gallic flair during his student days. The recording of Lang's version celebrates the historic association between Leipzig and Saint-Saëns' music, as the composer premiered his "Piano Concerto No. 2" in Paris in May 1868, with its second performance alongside the Gewandhausorchester taking place in Leipzig in October. Andris Nelsons highlighted the orchestra's unique connection to the composer's musical language and expressed that working with Lang Lang was "deeply enriching."

In addition, Lang was keen to include some well-known smaller-scale solo/four hands works on the album, such as Ravel's "Pavane pour une infante défunte," Fauré's "Pavane," and Debussy's "Petite Suite." His new album further shines light on music by five female French composers who had been largely overlooked until recent years, including Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), Mélanie-Hélène Bonis (1858-1937), Louise Farrenc (1804-1875), Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983), and Charlotte Sohy (1897-1955).

Lang Lang, Gina Alice, the Gewandhausorchester, and Andris Nelsons pictured during a live performance as part of the "Lang Lang – Saint-Saëns" project. [Photo courtesy of Universal Music Group]

Also part of this exciting audio-visual project is a performance film of "Carnival of the Animals" and a concert film of the "Piano Concerto No. 2," recorded live at Leipzig's Gewandhaus. Both will be shown on TV internationally, as well as on the video streaming platforms on Feb. 10 and in April of next year, respectively.

There will be concerts, too, with Lang Lang set to perform Saint-Saëns' "Piano Concerto No. 2" during the 2023-24 season, including concerts in Osaka on Nov. 11, Tokyo on Nov. 14, Yokohama on Nov. 15, and Hong Kong on Dec. 16-17, as well as a German tour in March 2024. The Concerto and "Carnival of the Animals" will be showcased with Gina Alice at London's Royal Albert Hall on Nov. 21-23 and in San Diego on April 12, 2024.

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