There are few names more recognizable in classical music today than Lang Lang. With legions of fans, he has shared his obvious passion for piano music around the world. His career has not only been marked by performances with all the great orchestras and at the most prestigious venues, but with innumerable high-profile appearances rarely afforded to classical musicians - for instance, the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2014 Grammys in collaboration with Metallica. He is not without his critics who attack his showy style of performance; Earl Wild was particularly harsh in christening him "the J. Lo of the piano". The performer we saw on Saturday night was clearly more than merely a self-indulgent wunderkind, but I still remain unconvinced that this is a fully mature artist.

Lang Lang © Harald Hoffmann | Sony Classical
Lang Lang
© Harald Hoffmann | Sony Classical

As he took to the stage, the 3500 seat Ardis Kranik Theater, filled to near-capacity, erupted in tumultuous applause. He extended his arms toward the audience like some messianic leader addressing his followers. There was indeed a particular sense of occasion in the hall tonight - having a solo piano recital in an opera house brings to mind Vladimir Horowitz's legendary recitals at the Met in the 1980s. But an opera house is probably one of the least desirable venues for a recital. To compensate for the cavernous depths of the theater, video screens projecting his hands were placed on either side of the stage. And no one has ever accused Lang Lang of playing too quietly.

In a change of order from the printed program, the concert began with Tchaikovsky's The Seasons, a traversal through the twelve months of the year. It started off on a high note, with January (At the Fireside) being presented as a miniature tone poem. June (Barcarolle), the most well-known piece of the suite, was gorgeous. The more extrovert works didn't fare so well, being prone to overly aggressive playing that dominated much of the evening. December (Christmas) is a waltz, and accordingly, Lang Lang gave particular emphasis to the bass, punctuating the triple meter... a reasonable interpretive decision if only it wasn't in excess to the point of throwing the melody off-balance. The difficulty in performing this work is to elevate the pieces above lightweight salon music which requires much attention to every subtlety and nuance. As these were largely glossed over, he didn't make a strong case for it, much less for performing the entire 40 minute suite.

Bach's Italian Concerto rounded off the first half. Being the only Baroque work on the program, it should have occupied a wholly different soundworld than the Tchaikovsky and Chopin. Instead, it was given a highly Romanticized interpretation. The first movement was marked by grand, sweeping gestures, as if he was trying to compensate for the lack of an ensemble in this concerto without orchestra. He brought out much of the melancholy in the slow movement, but it was never far from mere sentimentality. In the finale I would have appreciated a drier, crisper sound which would have brought more clarity to the contrapuntal voices.

The second half, which began only after a wardrobe change, was devoted to Chopin's four scherzos. Technically impressive and deeply passionate, these comprise some of the most affecting music of the 19th century. Despite its intense pathos and tragedy, the main theme of the B minor Scherzo was simply too fast and aggressive. The gentle middle section, based on a Polish Christmas carol, could have provided some much needed contrast, but it felt as if he was trying to milk every note for maximum dramatic impact. The second Scherzo was plagued by similar issues; the third, however, fared a bit better. The stormy descending double octaves were truly impressive, and the chorale provided some of the most rapturously beautiful playing of the evening. A shame, then, that the coda was so overblown. The final Scherzo, and the only one in a major key, was the most successful to my ears. The quicksilver writing makes for a much different type of piece, with fewer opportunities for ostentatious virtuosity. During the lyrical, nocturne-like theme, you could have heard a pin drop. With a final dramatic gesture, he brought the masses to their feet.

Two encores inevitably followed. The first, dedicated to his mother (who was in attendance), was an arrangement of the Chinese folk song Carol Dance, charming and deftly played. Finally, Mozart's Rondo alla turca, played at lightning speed. While this big-boned approach works in Arcadi Volodos' maniacal – and quite ingenious – transcription of the piece, in serving Mozart's original it was all but gratuitous.

Despite interpretative choices of questionable artistic merit, one had to give Lang Lang credit for his ability to keep a large audience entertained. The effervescence and charisma he brought to the stage was astounding, and one was constantly amazed at the total control he had, whether it was his practically peerless technique or his astonishingly wide dynamic range. In the end, this is what saved the day and made for another memorable recital.