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NSO and Han-Na Chang

Han-Na ChangLorin Maazel led the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center Thursday evening in a convincing performance of Fauré, Elgar, and Saint-Saëns. After Maazel's charming, fluent rendition of Fauré’s Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande, young Korean cellist Han-Na Chang took the stage for a unique reading of Elgar’s Cello Concerto. (She played Prokofiev the last time with the NSO, in 2004, and Shostakovich, among others, in her 2006 recital.) Chang had a poised, quiet demeanor onstage, where it appeared that only the bow was in motion. Also unique was her deep tone, which sounded rich throughout the instrument’s entire range; interestingly, high notes never sounded high. The viola section did a nice job blending with a cello note at one point and then carefully beginning their lilting melody from it. Additionally, Chang instilled a sense of trust with musicians and audience alike by seeking coordination from Maazel and the concertmaster. Chang did not have the variety of tone color, warmth, or intonation accuracy of Alisa Weilerstein’s recent BSO performance of the same work, but it is perhaps not helpful to compare apples and oranges.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, Maazel, Fit to Beat the Bland (Washington Post, November 30)
Organist William Neil joined the NSO for Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3, the Organ Symphony. While enjoyable, this work does not impart a vivid sense of journey and wonder. The 1972 pipe organ’s warm foundation sounds tonally complemented the orchestra; however, no matter how careful Neil was in changing chords in the slow texture of Part I, the organ seemed to thud from chord to chord. Basically, the smooth sound of the NSO string section made the organ sound less than ideal: perhaps Neil’s registrations were too loud, or it was the lack of sensitivity from an electro-pneumatic action (the pipes are opened by magnets instead of mechanically linked from key to pipe) or a lack of reverberation in the Concert Hall for an organ to sound ideal.

The texture of four-hand piano, strong organ, and full orchestra in Part II was distinctive and gripping. It was interesting to hear the pedal point – when a bass note is held for an extended period – following the fugue held by the actual pedal of an organ in addition to the lower orchestral instruments. Though lacking power and bass, the Kennedy Center Organ was a treat to hear, and the audience absolutely loved the heroic ending. Perhaps Maazel thought Neil dragged part of the end, since the organist was not allowed a deserved individual bow.

This concert repeats today (November 30, 1:30 pm) and tomorrow evening (December 1, 8 pm). Other than pops, children's concerts, and a Messiah, the NSO's regular schedule will not resume until the New Year, with the Corigliano second symphony and violinist Sarah Chang playing the Brahms concerto (January 17 to 19).


Anonymous said...

I was there Thursday and wondered at Neil's non-recognition. Also, during one of the calls, it seemed that the concertmaster shook off Maazel urging her to stand up alone. Perhaps she felt Neil deserved acknowledgment. Total speculation.

Anonymous said...

when the concertmaster "shook off Maazel," she was actually encouraging Maazel to take a solo bow.

Anonymous said...

If it was "lacking power and bass" and "seemed to thud from chord to chord" "sound(ed) less than ideal", and if there was "lack of reverberation in the Concert Hall for an organ", just why was "the Kennedy Center Organ (such) a treat to hear"????