Seen and Heard Concert
Bernstein, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov:
Han-Na Chang (cello), London Symphony Orchestra, Antonio Pappano
(conductor), Barbican Centre, 22 May, 2005 (AR)
Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra’s beautifully
balanced programme started with Leonard Bernstein’s highly
evocative Symphonic Suite – On The Waterfront.
Bernstein’s film and theatre music is paradoxically far
more inventive and interesting that his so-called ‘serious’
music – his symphonies and orchestral works, for Bernstein
is essentially a man of the theatre rather than a composer of
symphonies. On The Waterfront was given an inspired performance
by Pappano and the LSO. This is true ‘mood music’
which paints the grim scenes and suggests the violent characters
of the film with pictorial perfection via its orchestral motifs
and moods. The percussion in particular really let their hair
down and played with great panache and aplomb whilst the saccharine
strings had that appropriate suave ‘MGM orchestra’
type sound. The suite ended with a cascade of carnivalesque sounds
with the two timpanists playing in unison – the measured,
stroked timpani sounding uncannily like the closing bars of Mahler’s
A two-time Grammy nominee and ‘best seller’, Korean
cellist Han-Na Chang gave the most extraordinarily versatile and
volatile performance I have ever heard of Dmitri Shostakovich’s
Cello Concerto no. 1 in E flat major, Op. 107 (1959).
Chang’s highly charged, electrifying account dispelled the
tired cliché that it needs a Russian soloist to bring out
the depth and passion of this profound score.
Her electrifying and revelatory interpretation put her intense
playing leagues ahead of any other cellist in this difficult concerto
by its sheer range of sounds and moods. She played the Allegretto
with an appropriately aggressive attack, producing rugged and
raw, grainy and gutsy sounds. Here her tone can best be described
as ‘beautifully-ugly’ - a paradox of sound that is
the hallmark of Shostakovich’s scores - as it is with Mahler’s.
Here her mood had a sarcastic and acidic humour to it, accompanied
by wonderful solos from a raucous horn and shrill spiky flute.
Pappano proved to be an instinctive conductor of this composer,
teasing out angular and jagged rhythms and metallic, brittle sounds
from the virtuosi of the LSO.
In the Moderato her reserved playing had an eerie distant
starkness producing sublime sounds, perfectly paced by Pappano.
In the ghostly closing lullaby passages accompanied by a starry
celesta her cello produced delicate wisps of faint sighs. In the
physically and emotionally demanding unaccompanied solo Cadenza,
Chang took her cello to the limit of its endurance– and
then it happened: snap! “It was the G-string!!!” announced
Chang and she swiftly exited accompanied by sympathetic laughs
and applause from the audience. She quickly resumed the Cadenza
without causing a break in the extreme tension of the performance:
if anything her playing became even more expressive, stern and
dark. She played the concluding Finale: Allegro con moto
with great gusto, punctuated by cutting woodwind and incisive
timpani thumps, all conducted with a wild frenzy.
Chang and Pappano had absolute rapport throughout and it was a
pity this ‘live’ electrifying performance was not
recorded – despite or maybe even because of - the break
half way through it! The good news is that it will be her next
planned recording with the same forces: a recording to watch out
Like Chang’s hypnotic performance of the Shostakovich, Pappano’s
reading of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony in E
minor, Op. 27 had a mesmerising hold over the capacity house
from beginning to end. Since André Previn’s celebrated
recording of the score with the LSO this has – in a sense
– become that orchestra’s own symphony and they can
play it instinctively; Pappano had absolute control over the structure
of the score and integrated all four movements into a unified
The warm, deep ‘cello tone of the opening of the Largo
set the dark brooding tone and gloomy mood of the movement. With
the Allegro Pappano conducted with sweeping gestures
and balletic movements making the music flow with a fresh breeziness
and an underlying pulsating urgency. In the Allegro molto
the rhythms were jagged and buoyant, with the brass appropriately
strident and gruff contrasted with sweet strings in the lyrical
moments of melancholia. Here the percussion were incisive without
ever sounding brash.
The Adagio was wonderfully measured and conducted with
a graceful elegance and played with an eloquent simplicity; the
strings were seductively sweet without ever sounding smaltzy:
Pappano carefully avoided milking any over-sentimental ‘soulfulness’
that this movement sometimes inspires.
Pappano brought a sense of urgent tension and thrusting drive
to the concluding Allegro vivace. His sweeping elegant
gestures produced buoyant taut rhythms and highly expressive playing
from the LSO. As the movement marched forward the tension became
tighter and playing ever more urgent and intense with the closing
bars ending in a glorious haze of jubilation.
Pappano and the LSO received rapturous applause from an attentive
audience. This was a wonderful evening of world-class music making.
I hope to see Pappano with the LSO much more often.
Bernstein: On the Waterfront – Symphonic
Suite, Westside Story – Symphonic Dances, Fancy Free, Candide
Overture: New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein (conductor):
Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No 1, Opus 107;
Bloch: Schelomo; Lynn Harrell (cello); Concertgebouw Orchestra,
Bernard Haitink (conductor): Decca 414 162-2.
Rachmaninov: Symphony No 2 in E minor, Op 27;
Isle of the Dead, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Lorin Maazel
(conductor): DDG: Classikon 445 130-2.