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Han-Na Chang at the Terrace Theater

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Prokofiev, Cello Concerto, Chang/Pappano/LSO

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Shostakovich, Cello Concerto No.1, Sonata, Chang/Pappano/LSO
Han-Na Chang may enjoy an illustrious career – but her star-power does not quite extend so far as to sell out the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on a Saturday evening. Those who did find their way to her recital at the side of Sergio Tiempo (the 34-year-old Argentine is, like Ms. Chang, an EMI artist) must have been pleased to hear her surprisingly large sound, full of body, dashed with energetic abrasiveness and a healthy amount of self-satisfaction, starting with Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, op.70. That that work was originally composed for horn, not cello (although Schumann suggested the cello as a possibility), would not have crossed the mind of any listener unfamiliar with the work.

Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata, which Ms. Chang recently recorded along with the concerto and to much acclaim, came next and was oddly situated between the lyrical and its mercilessly driving forces that hint to the Shostakovich of later years to come. That position is of course the very nature of the beast… but it is the performer’s duty to weld it all together. To get all the romantic material out in all its beauty and make the subtly troubled, repetitive phrases not stick out as alien. A lack of aggression was hardly the problem (certainly not on the cello’s part) – a more mechanically steady pulse might have bridged the cleavage between those elements in the Allegro non troppo. The clean separation of the two moods within and Scherzo assured that all the performers’ qualities emerged unadulterated. The bright-eyed, bushy-tailed final Allegro, where Mr. Tiempo proved his immense skill and musicality more than any other part of the recital, was a joy with all its extravagance, quirky humor, coarse irregularities… fiery beyond the call of duty. Quibbles or not as there may have been room for, the Shostakovich achieved two things: It made you lust for what she’d do with Prokofiev and made such an impression that it nearly eradicated the memory of the Schumann from just minutes before.

Other Reviews:

Daniel Ginsberg, Han-Na Chang: Her Technique Is Now Just One Facet to Marvel At (Washington Post, December 11)
A softer grain might have been expected in the Chopin Sonata in G-minor, op.65. But here, too, “stormy” took precedence over flowing beauty: a dragging metallic grain snuck into her tone. Not displeasing, necessarily, but like a reminder that the music had to be made; that it didn’t just flow forth from the cello. The cello sonata itself can come across as less than coherent – and might please those ears that find too many Chopin Nocturnes, Ballades, or Preludes agitatingly sweet more than full-out admirers of his piano œuvre. It might be a stretch – but the sonata reminds me, despite the more hectic mood (accentuated by Ms. Chang), of the Brahms D-minor piano concerto: A quilt of beautiful music and filler. More successful in instances than as a whole. The Scherzo – Allegro con brio for example seems to fly by, amusing along the way, but leaving no trace.

The Largo’s short, soft kiss, with a breathy (unsteady), longing, last note, is quite different: The strengths of brevity well coupled with warm expressiveness. The Finale, achingly individualistic, left one excited, perhaps, but confused as to why. A jump of 17 years back from the 1846 sonata shows a very different, 19-year-old Chopin in the Introduction and Polonaise Brillante, op.3. ‘Quaint’ might be the right word. Even if in a flashy way. But then Ms. Chang tackles all that is before her with such keen vigor and in such a strident way that little quaintness is allowed to survive. Quenching every bit from this gaily entertaining Chopin, beauty of tone took yet again a back-seat to impressiveness, size of tone, and unmasked energy. If that is a calculated trade-off and the audience’s reaction a good measure, it paid off nicely, indeed. And then, as if she had sensed the above-described lust, she gave a movement from the Prokofiev sonata as an encore. Sublime.

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