On the Waterfront Symphonic Suite
Cello Concerto No.1 in E flat, Op.107
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27
Han-Na Chang (cello)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 22 May, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
All this music has box office appeal but each needs special advocacy to justify it being played, and this particular programme was hard to fathom as to choice of repertoire. On the Waterfront was a wonderful reminder of the glory days of André Previn discovering modern American repertoire with the LSO some thirty years or so ago. Today’s LSO responded with alert, infectious playing under the busy baton of Antonio Pappano. This was Bernstein’s only film score and it never outstays its welcome.
Han-Na Chang is recording Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto with Pappano and the LSO for 2006 delivery. Shostakovich’s music has, at least, two layers. It has a socio-political stratum and, of course, a purely musical one, the former generally considered more important than the latter. Hence listeners are constantly enquiring just what the composer was feeling and thinking at the time of composition. Do we hear dissent, demoralisation and despair within music that is generally easy to grasp and with much repetition of basic material? A strange but recognisable world of human experience.
The First Cello Concerto post-dates the Stalin era and seems of less substance than earlier works. Indeed the forcefulness the soloist is asked to heap upon the instrument in the first movement probably accounted for the broken string halfway through the cadenza that links the slow movement and finale. There was no doubting the technical expertise of Han-Na Chang, although there was a nagging feeling that a Russian soloist would have found more depth in what can appear to be a rather shallow work.
The same thought occurred in Rachmaninov’s wonderfully uplifting Second Symphony. Here is a work that cries out for interpretative ideas, particularly in the rhapsodic first movement, which contains music full of passion that epitomises the composer’s Russian legacy. Unfortunately Pappano generated little or no individuality in the LSO’s playing, sumptuous as it was. The work lacked the essential ingredient of a soulful response. With much podium activity, playing the notes without any original ideas is all that was achieved on this occasion.