Lang Lang | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Bartok's Second Piano Concerto opens with a rush up the keyboard and a brassy fanfare, and the excitement almost never lets up. Stravinsky's Petrushka is evident in the bright, rhythmic opening theme, and Liszt is apparent throughout the work in the extensive use of octaves, glissandi, repeated notes, and the dark, resonant bottom of the keyboard. Yet Bartok's music always retains its own characteristic sound--including Hungarian folk song and dance elements, modal harmonies, and an alternation between the lyrical and the percussive. The more pensive second movement begins with eerie, slow-moving strings and a poetic yet dirgelike piano part. A distant rumbling from the percussion section grows increasingly threatening--as does the piano--driving the orchestra toward a thrilling frenzy. Everything dies down to embers before launching into the exhilarating third movement. This splashy yet substantial work perfectly suits the young, charismatic superstar Lang Lang, whose playing has all the necessary drive, endurance, and exuberance. Last April his Orchestra Hall recital revealed some interpretative idiosyncrasies, and he couldn't quite hold together the large-scale Wanderer Fantasy. But his close relationship with Barenboim should ensure a good performance of this 20th-century masterpiece. Also on the program--part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's new Afterwork Masterworks series, intermission-free concerts that are guaranteed to be over by 8 PM--will be Haydn's Symphony no. 86. Barenboim conducts. Lang Lang will play the Bartok again on Thursday with two Haydn symphonies, the 86th and 99th; performances continue through Sunday, January 9. Wed 1/5, 6:30 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114, $24-$85 or $10-$37 for those 17 and under.

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