Han-Na Chang – Bach & Kodály

Suite in G for unaccompanied cello, BWV1007
Sonata for Solo Cello, Op.8

Han-Na Chang (cello)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 19 May, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Han-Na ChangThis was the second time that Han-Na Chang had given a BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall; as in the first she paired a Suite by J. S. Bach with a substantial 20th-century work.

Even now, 90 years and more since its composition, there are few works for solo cello that make the technical innovations and demands of Zoltán Kodály’s Sonata. De-tuning the instrument’s two lowest strings to F sharp and B (rather than G and C), the composer achieves a uniquely dark colouring that complements the strong folk inflections of his music.

Han-Na Chang gave a performance that left the audience hanging on every note, from the striking authority with which she began to the frenzied quadruple-stopping in the final bars, 35 minutes later. In between she paid careful attention to Kodály’s markings, maximising the range of sounds possible from the cello and pushing the faster music along at quite a rate, hitting every harmonic and sforzando with precision.

With such a determined start, the first movement pushed forward with great energy but also a keen sense of structure, Chang carefully using fluctuations of tempo to signpost the re-appearances of principal melodies. The elaborate melodic decorations were brilliantly and colourfully used, and in making much of the thoughtful and meditative slow music, Chang was able to enhance the effect of the faster passagework. This meant the dazzling virtuosity of the finale was not at all for mere show, and contributed to the momentum of the performance.

To contrast the stormy outbursts of the Kodály was a warm-hearted performance of Bach’s First Cello Suite; one that brought through its lyrical qualities in Chang’s sensibly phrased bowing. The warmth of the cellist’s sound was immediately apparent in the ‘Prelude’, which was on the fast side but still had a nice lilt, together with the willingness to exert a flexible rhythmic approach leading up to cadence points. This was a feature of the Suite throughout, with Chang careful not to make too much of the double-stopped chords in the ‘Sarabande’, nor to be over-boisterous in the ‘Menuets’. In the second one, in fact, the minor-key slant was well affected, the chosen dynamic extremely quiet, the tempo totally unhurried. The ‘Courante’, however, was another story – a vivacious and dancing quickstep, to Chang’s evident enjoyment.

Re-tuning her cello, Chang chose the ‘Sarabande’ from the Third Cello Suite as her encore, quelling the fire of the Kodály so that the recital came full-circle.

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