Lang Lang is a fast-rising star of the piano and this performance shows why. His entry was a torrent of liquid notes, played with poise and seemingly very little effort. If it is accepted that best pianists make the most technical passages look effortless, and Lang Lang's traversal of this Beethoven concerto was an absolute cakewalk.
However, he was hampered by Eschenbach's conducting, which missed the pace and rhythmic snap necessary to make this Beethoven work not just listenable, but spectacularly entertaining. This performance was pretty and note-perfect. All the meters were correct and the rhythms were strict. But it was drained of blood and passion when Mr. Lang was not playing, and was ultimately let down by the conductor.
Happily, these problems did not occur during the second piece on the program Bruckner's mighty, unfinished Ninth Symphony. This work exists as a torso, and is generally performed without its unfinished last movement, which Bruckner did not live to complete. Like most of the composer's output, the score is massive, static blocks of brass and strings, powerful fanfares, thunderous crescendoes, weighty pauses and mighty chorales.
The Philharmonic is an orchestra that thrives on its brass section, and the horns were well equipped to play Bruckner. The mighty first statement shook the hall, and the orchestra was off, blasting through the score. The first movement rolled, swelled and roared. The second, built like most Bruckner scherzos, around a distinctive five-note "Bruckner rhythm" and the Landler, a traditional Austrian peasant folk dance.
Even Eschenbach's podium gyrations could not keep up with the orchestra's inspired playing in the final adagio, a powerful movement replete with quotations from Wagner (including a theme from Walküre and the bell-motif from Parsifal.. Since Bruckner sketched the finale but did not live to complete the last movement, this Adagio made a powerful close to the concert.