Monday, January 13, 2014

De gustibus non est disputandum

Today we will consider two pianists from two different centuries, with two completely different styles.

One was brought up in the age of television. One was not. Both are extremely talented, but their performances could not be more different.

For one thing (and this is no small matter), one played quite a bit faster than the other when performing the composition we will hear today. Who knows? Perhaps temperament affects tempo in ways the composer never imagined.

The one who grew up in the age of television incorporates a great deal of flair and showmanship into his playing, tossing his head and arms and torso about so that even an untutored member of the audience will clearly understand how impassioned he is. The other one plays equally passionately (if not as rapidly) but the passion emerges from his fingertips at the place they touch the keyboard.

One seems to have watched a lot of Liberace. One clearly has not.

Here they are, each playing the same composition:

Vladimir Horowitz plays Chopin’s Polonnaise Op. No. 53 in A-flat Major (7:25)

Lang Lang plays Chopin’s Polonnaise Op. No. 53 in A-flat Major (6:20)

Both performances are spectacular, just in different ways.

Vladimir Horowitz was married to Wanda Toscanini, daughter of famed conductor Arturo Toscanini. Lang Lang accompanied singer Katherine McPhee at the National Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C., on May 24, 2009.

You can read more about Lang Lang (1982- ) here, and you can read more about Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) here.

It was written about Horowitz that “for all the aural excitement of his playing, Horowitz rarely raised his hands higher than the piano’s fallboard. His body was immobile, and his face seldom reflected anything other than intense concentration.”

That could never have been written about Lang Lang. It has been written about Lang Lang that he “successfully straddles two worlds – classical prodigy and rock-like superstar.”

You are free to prefer either performance, because -- as we all should know -- in matters of taste, there can be no disputes.


  1. An interesting comparison. I am not sure which of them I prefer so I shall sit on the fence. Is there a YouTube video clip of you yourself playing Chopin Polonaise Op. 53 in A flat major? If there is then that's the one I would vote for as I expect it would contain a pinch of Lang Lang and a similar smidgeon of Horowitz but a shovel full of Brague and perhaps a sprinkling of Liberace too.

  2. YP, there is no YouTube video clip of I myself playing Chopin's Polonnaise Op. 53 in A-flat Major or anything else. I used to have a vinyl recording made when I was about 13 of my portion of Mrs. Alyne Eagan's annual piano recital for her students, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) it managed to be shattered beyond repair in one of our family's many moves.

  3. I enjoyed both clips. Prior to reading your post, I had never even heard of Lang Lang, much less seen/heard him playing. He is an amazing young musician who apparently greatly enjoys his own performance.

  4. Pat, an apt observation! Perhaps Lang Lang (whose name sounds like it should belong to a panda) is the Sam Levinson of pianists.

  5. I'd never heard of Lang Lang before either, but I found both to be good.

  6. I must admit I prefer Lang Lang's performance, he almost dances with the notes, and has a glee about him that's somewhat infectious, thought ultimately it is the way he played the notes that won me over.

  7. Like YP, I don't have a preference as regards the interpretation, but it certainly does highlight the changing trend towards performance. Style over substance, or is that unfair?

  8. I'm glad to have introduced Lang Lang to you, Rubye Jack and All Consuming.

    Shooting Parrots, Lang Lang has both style and substance. I just don't care for that much style, personally, and find it a bit exhibitionistic. The trend is in that direction, however, and many performers with far less talent in their chosen field perform with just as much (and even more) style nowadays. You are not being unfair.

  9. This was a very interesting comparison ~ I loved listening to and comparing them! Thank you for the education and edification!