Damian Thompson Damian Thompson

Lang Lang’s wretched new album

Everything perishes in the Chinese pianist's hands in his new Saint-Saëns album for DG

Grade: F

At the end of his life Sviatoslav Richter decided to try his hand at the Gershwin Piano Concerto. It was a ghastly experiment, but his admirers were used to his quirkiness, knew his powers were fading and so sensibly forgot about it.

Now we have Lang Lang playing Saint-Saëns. It’s an even more wretched mismatch than Richter and Gershwin – but I learn from a Deutsche Grammophon press release that fans of the ‘Chinese superstar’ have pushed this horrible album to the top of the UK classical charts.

The liner notes are beyond parody. I counted ten photos of the superstar, in which he’s clutching a flower, playing air piano or resting his head on the keyboard. ‘In the Orient, music is sometimes just an idea, a mood, or a smell,’ he explains. ‘These French works connect with my personal understanding of the Orient. By bridging these two worlds people will hopefully see me from a different perspective.’

Indeed. In The Carnival of the Animals, Lang Lang and his pianist wife Gina Alice set up shop as taxidermists: none of the beasts survives the grip of their steely fingers. In the Second Piano Concerto, Lang Lang and the Gewandhaus under Andris Nelsons seem to be under the impression that they’re playing Brahms, and badly at that; every trill is drilled into the keyboard and the trio of the scherzo sounds like someone trying to perform the can-can in jackboots.

The encores are the worst. Again, everything perishes under Lang Lang’s icy touch and suffocating rubato. If the infanta in Ravel’s famous pavane weren’t dead by the beginning of the piece, she certainly would be by the end.