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With his youth, virtuosity, good looks, and dramatic flair, 26-year-old Chinese pianist Lang Lang is as big a star as the classical-music world produces these days. He's spending the weekend in Chicago and playing several concerts at Symphony Center, of which the most intriguing is perhaps on Saturday night: he'll perform material from his album Dragon Songs (Deutsche Grammophon, 2006), a sparkling collection of recent compositions from his homeland.
The center of the album is "Yellow River Piano Concerto," a somewhat overwrought piece based on a choral work by Xian Xinghai, who died in 1945. The rest of the album is better, with sweet, richly melodic solo turns and a few duets toward the end with musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments like pipa, guanzi, and guzheng--my favorite moments. Lang Lang will be joined for parts of tomorrow's program by Chicago's own Yang Wei on pipa (he's worked regularly over the past few years with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project), Guo Gan on erhu, and DaXun Zhang on bass.
Clark, Turning Dragon (Warp)
Jonas Müller, East African Prayer Meeting Suite (ILK)
Örköiek Budapesten, The Örkö Gypsies From Transylvania (Etnofon)
Samuel Blaser Quartet, 7th Heaven (Between the Lines)
Maria Kannegaard Trio, Camel Walk (Jazzland)