Vancouver Symphony

Brahms and Schumann

Brahms Tragic Overture, Op. 81; Schumann Cello Concerto; Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 | Christian Arming, conductor and Han-Na Chang, cello

Dates 22 and 24 October, 8pm Venue Orpheum Theatre Reviewer Kulpreet Sasan


This concert of works by Brahms and Schumann allowed an opportunity to watch the best of Vancouver's sartorial offerings. And there could be few events more civilized than the opportunity to take in a performance by Rostopovich-student Han-Na Chang, who challenged herself with Schumann's cello concerto in the first concert of the Accenture Masterwork Diamond Series.

The evening began with Brahms' "Tragic Overture," Op. 81 under the direction of Christian Arming. Music Director of the Lucerne Theatre, Chief Conductor of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Chief Conductor of the New Japan Philharmonic, Maestro Arming has obviously accomplished much in his 31 years. His direction was brisk and efficient. He did not partake in the repartee that sometimes accompanies Bramwell Tovey's conducting duties, and allowing a rather quick pace and an end just before 10 o'clock.

Han-Na Chang came on stage wearing a red and pink billowy dress. Looking something like an fairy tale princess, she lit up the stage filled with musicians in "traditional concert black." Seated stage front, she began a lively interpretation of Schumann's Cello Concerto.

At first it wasn't quite clear how this sound was being produced. Was she using some extraordinary technique to create some counter-resonance that sounded like the inhaling of a breath and giving her instrument a kind of organic rhythm? Chang's own deep breathing gave the instrumentation a different interpretation, turning the cello into a bassoon. Although rather interesting for the first few moments (one thinks of Glenn Gould's hum-along mannerism), this technique became increasingly irritating as the concert on continued, dramatizing the execution and distracting from the music as she continued.

Equally distracting were were a collection of facial expressions changing with the harmonies. One couldn't help notice the vast array as she felt her way through the piece. This was especially apparent in the differences between moments when she would go blank between her solo duties and then began anew when she played. The contrast between her perfectly sedate, almost bored, expressions and the full blown glory of her contorted features was remarkable.

This is, of course, a minor quibble on stage behaviour about what was absolutely stellar playing. Chang threw herself into the piece and created a haunting emotionality that could charm to coldest of hearts.

The Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 was given a flawless performance, with the orchestra in complete control over this sprawling masterwork. One could only be awed by the highly organized machinery executing a difficult turn under Maestro Arming's refined direction.

© 2005 Kulpreet Sasan