The National Symphony Orchestra featured three concerts with cellist Han-Na Chang under Leonard Slatkin. Daniel Ginsberg reviewed the Beethoven-Prokofiev-Strauss concert more or less enthusiastically in the Washington Post – though he obviously couldn’t stand Strauss’ Sinfonia Domestica which he didn’t deem worth the effort or time of a performance.
Unfortunately, it defied imagination that the conductor would put the orchestra through so much time and energy to perform Strauss's "Symphonia Domestica," Op. 53. [...] To modern listeners [...] the score of more than 40 minutes paints a picture of musical sprawl. Though filled with some pleasingly lush instrumental writing, this is one of the composer's most disjointed works.
As the NSO invested its skills in this repetitive and saccharine score, one pleaded for something else. [...]
With playing this fine, the Strauss by no means torpedoed the whole evening. Still, it seemed that the NSO's abilities would have been better spent on other music. One looks forward to performances over the next few weeks when these confident artists return to the stronger, more transparent fare in which they excel.
I may disagree in specific... but I certainly disagree on principle: Few pieces of music of the stature of Strauss’ musical autobiography No.2 (the first one being Ein Heldenleben) are worth dismissing so off-hand–and I welcome the chance to convince myself in person, live, of their relative merit. Banning them entirely from the stage–and that’s how Mr. Ginsberg’s sounded like he’d have it–isn’t a good idea because it (inadvertantly?) fosters the habit of performing only a core canon of “greatest hits”.
Whether despite or because of his review, the concert hall at the Kennedy Center was only three quarters or two thirds full... but those who were there got a good start with the Leonore Overture #3 (op.72a) which was done with lavish feeling and in a highly evocative manner. Still, it felt too slow to be a cohesive whole in the first half of the work. Once Slatkin stepped a bit on the pedal, it worked out very nicely and the trumpet call from the wings was at least a cute idea. The gradations of tone, the changes of undercurrent, however, were excellent and betray the fact that the NSO continues to improve. That it also needs to improve is no secret–nor is the fact that Mr. Slatkin is probably one of the dozen of best conductors for specifically that job.
Maestro Slatkin’s 60 years don’t keep him from getting excited, either–as proven by little leaps on the podium that accompanied the final of Leonore 3.
S. Prokofiev, Sinfonia Concertante, Han-Na Chang, Pappano
The beautiful and fragile looking Han-Na Chang, whose only fault tonight may have been a tone that was ultimately not involving enough, attacked her cello in the more furious passages that belied nonsensical ideas such as attributing fragility to her. True to her style, even in those movements she was more a wild gazelle than a stampeding rhinoceros.
R. Strauss, Complete Orchestral Works, Rudolf Kempe
R. Strauss, Sinfonia Domestica, Parergon, David Zinman
Gentler, more lighthearted and with a healthy dose of irony and friendly self-deprecation, the Sinfonia Domestica lacks the bombast of Ein Heldenleben, but makes up for it with charm. Rereading Mr. Ginsberg’s excerpt makes me want to denounce his Strauss-bashing as rubbish. To convince yourself of the work’s qualities try it (on headphones!) in the just about definitive version (as are all of Strauss’ orchestral works) with Rudolf Kempe on EMI. If the complete set seems a bit too much (though it’s all worth it), you can find a good budget version in David Zinmann’s Arte Nova recording. (He, too, has a–dirt-cheap–complete Strauss box set)
Or you might wait for Christian Thielemann to do it with the Munich or Vienna Philharmonic–which should not be to far off in the future (on DG).The evening was worth it, then, not despite but in part because of the Strauss. Had, however, Han-Na Chung stuck around and participated in Strauss’ “Don Quixote”, I too, would have gladly seen the Sinfonia off the program.