Lang Lang may have made the grade, but would a young Sokolov pick up a recording contract today?

This month’s cover star – and it’s not every day you can use that epithet – is Lang Lang, a global sensation with literally millions of fans worldwide, who will soon be headed for our shores. Francis Merson’s observations on the Chinese pianist’s early fashion choices prompted me to look back at his critical reputation over the last decade. In 2007, Alex Ross in The New Yorker called him “immature”, while the late Earl Wild once dubbed him “the J. Lo of the piano”. But that was then. In recent years critics have been lining up to applaud his talents. “It has been clear for some time that Lang Lang has grown into a sensitive, thoughtful musician,” wrote Phillip Scott of his most recent recording in January’s Limelight. A glance at our cover proves he can still sport a wicked pair of sneakers, but are we witnessing the triumph of substance over style at last?

One of the beefs I hear most often talking to professional musicians is the increasing difficulty of attracting the attention of the majors if you don’t have crazy hair, a fit bod or you’re reluctant to record a mash-up of Bach with a troupe of Kazakhstani nose flautists. Of course, that’s not to say that some of today’s classical music hotties are not extremely talented, it’s just that the bald, the portly and the plain-featured don’t seem to get much of a look in these days. One ray of sunshine was Deutsche Grammophon’s signing last year of Grigory Sokolov, a grey-haired, larger-sized, 66-year-old Russian pianist who is unlikely to make the cover of Vogue any time soon. Let’s hope he starts a trend.

No fear of any of our articles being all gas and no gaiters this month. Like Lang Lang, Roberto Alagna has developed an increasingly respectful critical following as the years have passed. Similarly, the recording industry at least seems to have rediscovered the brilliance of the composers who fought and fell at the Somme. And sitting through the film of Singin’ in the Rain as research for my feature on the stage show, I was reminded that Gene Kelly might just have been the finest dancer that America ever produced. Now there was the perfect mix of style and substance.

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