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Lang Lang to release recording of epic Bach piece

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-07-17 11:53

Pianist Lang Lang will release his latest recording of Johann Sebastian Bach's monumental keyboard work, the Goldberg Variations, under the label of Deutsche Grammophon on Sept 4.

Goldberg Variations by Lang Lang [Photo provided to China Daily]

It will be released in two performances given by the pianist. The first was recorded in a single take in concert held at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Bach's workplace for almost 30 years and site of his grave. The second was made soon after in the seclusion of the studio. The two recordings can be purchased together as part of a super deluxe edition, which will be a world-first simultaneous live and studio album release.

Related: Lang Lang on his favorite aria

"I'm now 38 and, while that's not old, I think the time was right for a new stage in my artistic development," says Lang Lang, who has been dreaming of recording the Goldberg Variations, which is often described as "a musical Everest". "I've moved into new terrain with the Goldberg Variations and really immersed myself fully in this project. My goal as an artist is to keep becoming more self-aware and more knowledgeable, as well as to keep offering inspiration to others. It's an ongoing process, but this project has taken me a little further along the path."

The pianist's long journey of exploring this great musical piece began with his childhood lessons in Bach's music in China. He was just 17 when he played the Goldberg Variations from memory for the conductor and pianist Christoph Eschenbach, which was an unforgettable experience for both musicians. Lang Lang subsequently sought expert advice from leading interpreters of the composer's music, conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt and harpsichordist and early keyboard specialist Andreas Staier among them.

Pianist Lang Lang [Photo provided to China Daily]

Having allowed his relationship with the work to evolve naturally over time, Lang Lang finally felt ready to record Bach's great aria and 30 variations. In early March 2020, shortly before beginning his studio sessions, he gave a poignant public performance of the work in Leipzig.

"Playing in the Thomaskirche, where Bach is buried, was unbelievably emotional for me," he recalls. "I've never felt as close to a composer as I did during that recital. The live version is very spontaneous, whereas in the studio version my playing is different – very considered and reflective. In a concert situation you experience the 100-minute work as a whole. In the studio you can focus on individual details and nuances, and of course that can affect the musical experience quite substantially."

Lang Lang performs. [Photo provided to China Daily]

It's believed that Bach wrote the Goldberg Variations for his pupil, a teenage harpsichord virtuoso named Johann Gottlieb Goldberg. The composer's first biographer reported that the piece was commissioned by the Russian ambassador to the Dresden court, an insomniac, as a "soothing and cheerful" work for young Goldberg to play during the night. Published in late 1741, it demands total spiritual focus from the performer.

"This isn't just the most exceptional and creative work in the keyboard repertoire, it's also the most multidimensional," says Lang Lang. "It allows us to draw on everything we have within ourselves, but also makes us realize what's missing and what we still have to learn."

On July 10, the pianist released the video of the first song of the album, the Aria from the Goldberg Variations, on his social media platforms, such as Sina Weibo and Bilibili, which received warm feedback from both his fans and his musician friends.

"You are the best of this century. So proud of you brother," commented conductor Yu Long.

"I must say I'm pleasantly surprised by his playing since his return from injury. He's a transformed artist. He's well on his way to becoming an all-time great," wrote fan.

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