Sunday, February 19, 2023

Orchestra Hall, Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan

How would Han-Na Chang conduct the conclusion of Shostakovich Five? A question posed, if by default, by Leonard Slatkin having written this,, and then conducting this, Would Chang do massive and robotic, like Masur, or rapid and consequently empty, Bernstein, or even-handedly between such extremes (not that he knew), Mravinsky, the work’s first conductor in 1937?

Well, from Chang, the start of this final movement was too deliberate, hanging fire, and the lead-up to the coda something of a funeral cortege, all suggesting a Masur-like ending, and this is what we got, if not quite as colossal, or disturbing, but revealing of this conclusion’s ability to bend persuasively to a point of view.

Leading up to the denouement, the performance (delayed by the usual Detroit latecomer problem post-interval, this hiatus longer than some), Chang conducted a somewhat severe account of the Symphony (held on a tight leash, emotionally restricted), which at times sounded suitable for the composer’s response to “just criticism”, yet her vivid gestures and intense facial expressions were not always reciprocated in kind by the DSO. The slow movement was the most successful – lonely, fragile, chilly – a lament not quite exorcised come the climax (maybe that’s the point) … and then the Finale…

Tchaikovsky’s take on Romeo and Juliet opened this matinee concert. Sombre from the start, pointing to the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers, if too early for such disclosure, all rather lugubrious, and not enlivened by subdued fight music, with the love quotient rather stilted and lacking translucence. Played with little inspiration.

Followed by Anna Clyne’s Glasslands (Irish folklore; banshees), a concerto for saxophonist Jess Gillam, given its premiere a couple of days ago (DSO co-commission with BBC Radio 3). Spiky, neon-lit, becoming something of a whirligig; there are a lot of notes in the first movement, but are they spinning or meaningful? Relaxed moments engage more, but the moods change (too) quickly. The second movement is affectingly intimate, the sax canoodling with other solo instruments until (seemingly) ill-fitting restlessness comes on the scene, and if the Finale’s lightly notated stalking is attractive, the development (if that’s the word) is less clear-cut. Gillam was unfailingly brilliant and sensitive.