LANG LANG – SAINT-SAËNS NEW ALBUM FROM THE RENOWNED PIANIST
FEATURING SAINT-SAËNS’S PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2 AND CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS
ALONGSIDE OTHER FRENCH CLASSICS AND RARITIES
PERFORMED WITH CONDUCTOR ANDRIS NELSONS, THE GEWANDHAUSORCHESTER
AND GINA ALICE
RELEASED ON DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON ON MARCH 1, 2024
FIRST SINGLE AND MUSIC VIDEO – “AQUARIUM” FROM CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS – OUT NOW
10 NOVEMBER 2023 (TORONTO, ON) — Classical favourites, musical discoveries and a pair of captivating large-scale works by Saint-Saëns make up the fantastic selection of French works on Lang Lang’s latest recording. Lang Lang – Saint-Saëns, set for release by Deutsche Grammophon on 2 CDs, 2 LPs and digitally on March 1, 2024, sees the Chinese superstar join forces with his wife, pianist Gina Alice, the Gewandhausorchester and Andris Nelsons.
At the heart of the album are the magical Carnival of the Animals, Saint-Saëns’s “Grand Zoological Fantasy” for two pianos and orchestra, and the virtuosic Piano Concerto No. 2. Also included are a dozen works for solo piano or piano four hands – a blend of Belle Époque favourites and neglected gems by female French composers.
Also part of this exciting audio-visual project are a concert film of the Piano Concerto No. 2, made live in concert at Leipzig’s Gewandhaus, and a performance film of Carnival of the Animals, both of which will be shown on TV internationally, as well as on DG’s video streaming service STAGE+. Carnival of the Animals, featuring Gina Alice as second pianist, is set to premiere on the platform on February 10, while the Second Piano Concerto will follow in April.
“Aquarium” from Carnival of the Animals will be released as a single, accompanied by a video, on November 10. This will be followed by the “Flower Duet” from Lakmé on December 8; Tailleferre’s Valse lente on January 12; the piano four hands version of Saint-Saëns’s “The Swan” on February 9; and “Fossils” alongside the album on March 1.
Lang Lang’s decision to open the album with a work that has enchanted generations of young listeners and introduced millions to classical music reflects his mission to attract children to the genre. “Many of us remember Saint-Saëns’s famous Carnival of the Animals from childhood. There are a lot of clever ideas underneath all the fun. He’s making a real statement, but in a very humorous way,” says the pianist. “And of course it was wonderful to record it with my wife, Gina Alice.”
For Gina Alice, the recording sessions were a personal milestone. “I have been admiring both Andris Nelsons and the Gewandhausorchester for years,” she notes. “Collaborating with them was a great honour, and I wanted to give my best and enjoy every moment of it. Practising and recording this piece together with Lang Lang felt like another dimension of communication, and I am truly grateful for this opportunity.”
The 14-movement musical bestiary was written at speed in 1886 and its parodies of music by, among others, Rossini, Offenbach, Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns himself, apparently intended for the amusement of his students, received several private or semi-private performances before being shelved to spare Saint-Saëns from losing his reputation as a “serious” artist.
Published within months of his death in 1921, Carnival of the Animals soon became a firm favourite with concertgoers. Its penultimate number, “The Swan”, had already achieved fame, originally published during the composer’s lifetime in a version for cello and two pianos. The album ends with Émile Naoumoff’s arrangement for piano four hands, with both parts played by Lang Lang.
Lang Lang calls Saint-Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto a “magnificent but underrated Romantic masterpiece”. He was first drawn to its fusion of Germanic Romanticism and Gallic flair during his student days. “I always liked this piece,” he recalls. “The opening is a tribute to Bach and the first movement has slow cadenzas as well as regular fast passages. The second movement is a scherzo, almost like Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the finale is very virtuosic, like Bach and Franz Liszt combined. It’s almost an organ concerto, but it also has these delicate French elements.”
The recording celebrates the historic association between Leipzig and the music of Saint-Saëns, who, having premiered his Second Concerto in Paris in May 1868, gave its second performance with the Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig the following October. Andris Nelsons points to the orchestra’s “special connection and approach to [the composer’s] musical language” and calls working with Lang Lang “deeply enriching”. For his part, the pianist says, “Exploring the Concerto with the fabulous Gewandhausorchester and Andris Nelsons has opened up new horizons for me.”
Lang Lang was keen to include some well-known smaller-scale solo/four hands works on the album, starting with Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte. He also plays the Toccata from Saint-Saëns’s Six Études, Op. 111 and the Pavane by Fauré, as well as arrangements of “In paradisum” from the latter’s Requiem and the “Flower Duet” from Delibes’s opera Lakmé. For Debussy’s Petite Suite he is again joined by Gina Alice, who describes playing this evocative work as like “painting a picture”.
Finally, Lang Lang – Saint Saëns shines light on music by five female French composers largely overlooked until recent years. Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), arguably the most famous among them, became the first woman to win the coveted Prix de Rome. Lang Lang gives a spellbinding performance of Boulanger’s sublimely beautiful D’un jardin clair.
Saint-Saëns was an admirer of the music of Mélanie-Hélène Bonis (1858-1937), a former Paris Conservatoire student whose works were published under the pseudonym of Mel Bonis. She wrote over 300 compositions, including “La toute petite s’endort”, one of her Mirocheries of 1928.
Louise Farrenc (1804-75) and Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) were among the few women to achieve prominence on the French musical scene during their lifetimes. The former received favourable reviews from Robert Schumann, while the latter became the only female member of Les Six.
Farrenc’s Étude No. 10 in F sharp minor and Tailleferre’s Valse lente frame Lang Lang’s performance of the delicious “Romance sans paroles” from Quatre pièces romantiques Op. 30 by Charlotte Sohy (1897-1955), whose music has only recently resurfaced after decades of neglect.
“In addition to iconic works by Saint-Saëns, Ravel, Debussy and Fauré,” says Lang Lang. “I was able for the first time to make a closer acquaintance with music by French women composers. For this recording I have unearthed some beautiful treasures, which I am thrilled to share.”
Lang Lang is performing Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 2 throughout the 2023-24 season, with forthcoming dates in Osaka (11 November), Tokyo (14 November), Yokohama (15 November) and Hong Kong (16/17 December), and a German tour to follow in March 2024. He will play both the Concerto and Carnival of the Animals (with Gina Alice) at London’s Royal Albert Hall in London (21 & 23 November) and in San Diego (12 April 2024).
ABOUT LANG LANG
Internationally renowned pianist Lang Lang has sold millions of albums worldwide, topping classical charts and achieving simultaneous mainstream success. Named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine, during the past decade he has performed for such dignitaries as President Barack Obama, Pope Francis and the late Queen Elizabeth II, as well as giving sold-out concerts with all of the world’s top orchestras and conductors. Lang Lang has also reached vast televised audiences by performing at the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and with artists such as Metallica, Pharrell Williams and Herbie Hancock at various editions of the Grammy Awards. In April 2020 he took part in the One World: Together At Home concert, which was broadcast on major television networks and streamed online on multiple global platforms. In June 2022, Lang Lang was announced as an honoree in the Hollywood Walk of Fame Class of 2023. Lang Lang will be recognised in a ceremony in April 2024 together with such stars as Paul Walker, Uma Thurman, Lenny Kravtiz, Mindy Kaling, the Jonas Brothers, Melba Moore, Pentatonix and others.
The scale of Lang Lang’s musical achievements is mirrored by his tireless commitment to charitable causes, most notably through the Lang Lang International Music Foundation and Keys of Inspiration®. Both a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and a UN Messenger of Peace, he has inspired over 40 million children to learn the piano and has developed hugely successful educational programmes. Lang Lang’s recent albums, 2019’s The Piano Book, 2020’s Goldberg Variations and 2022’s The Disney Book, were runaway international bestsellers. He won an army of new fans in 2023 as one of the judges on The Piano, a heartwarming talent show broadcast by Channel 4 in the UK. One of the most influential classical musicians in the world, Lang Lang has over 20 million social media followers. Everything the pianist does is underpinned by his belief that “music makes life better – it heals, unites and inspires, and it makes us better people”.