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Orchestral Music

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Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Melodie Op.20 No.1 (1891) [8:16]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Allegro appassionato Op.43 (1877) [3:49]
Édouard LALO (1823-1892)
Cello Concerto in D minor (1877) [25:27]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Rondo in G minor Op.94 (1893) [8:50]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Andante cantabile – from String Quartet in D major Op.11 (1871) [8:34]
Pablo CASALS (1876-1975)
El cant dels ocells [Song of the Birds] [4:37]
Han-Na Chang (cello)
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano
rec. December 2005 live; the Lalo Concerto, July 2006. Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
EMI CLASSICS 3 82390 2 [59:32]

The disc’s title is Romance and that gives some indication of the trajectory of the music-making. And yet the programme is odd. The ballast is provided by the Lalo concerto, a studio recording, and around it sit satellites of orchestrally-arranged smaller pieces, which were recorded in concert; legitimately arranged by the composers of course.
Let’s dispose of some of sweetmeats first. It’s good that she essays the Glazunov as it’s seldom performed or recorded in this form. Nevertheless tonally things are rather unvaried and Chang shows a distinct propensity for over-elastic tempi and too vertiginous an array of dynamics. The Dvořák Rondo takes these things to excess. This is a very droopy, inert performance with rubati that clog the line rendering it lifeless. You wouldn’t catch Sádlo doing this kind of thing. Things get even worse with the Tchaikovsky, which is terribly slow, completely lacking in contrast and bathed in a matte finish of generic tonal responses. Even the Casals piece sounds somnambulant.
These are all very disappointing performances, rendered all the more so because Chang is clearly a finely equipped player who has here surrendered herself to the luxury of indulgence. This refers to tempi and to tonal resources equally. The main issue however is the Lalo and here things are somewhat better, though the qualifier is important. What one lacks in this performance is light and shade, discrimination regarding bow weight and subtleties of vibrato usage and, vitally, finding the essential character of the piece. Chang prefers a rather all-purpose vibrato and a generic sense of drama. Passages are insufficiently characterised. In the Intermezzo we find her vibrato clogging phraseology to such an extent that phrases refuse to lift or float free. It’s the obverse of the Rose and the Starker performances and utterly removed from a classic performance by Maurice Maréchal where he phrases with such deftness and sensitivity that we are, for a moment, in the realms of pure song.
So, to sum up, this is a strange programme, generically performed, efficiently accompanied. We have a soloist with charisma and technique but little awareness of apt style. I wonder whether, if she’d played, say, the Dvořák Rondo in recital in the version for cello and piano things would have turned out differently. Maybe she’d have exercised greater discipline without the orchestra to buoy her. Still, maybe not, and we can only judge what we can hear.
Jonathan Woolf


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