The Strad Issue: January 2007
Musicians: Han-Na Chang (cello) Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Orchestra, Antonio Pappano (conductor)
Composer: Glazunov, Saint-Saëns, Dvorák, Tchaikovsky, Lalo & Casals

After two weighty releases of mainstream repertoire by Shostakovich and Prokofiev, Korean–American star Han-Na Chang, now in her mid-twenties, turns to a lighter and more popular mix. The opening and closing tracks are particularly fine. Glazunov’s Melody is an ideal vehicle for Chang’s poised, graceful playing. Under Antonio Pappano’s baton, the Italian orchestra follows the very flexible tempo and rubato incredibly well, though Chang’s relaxed, mellow tone is sometimes in danger of being lost within the orchestral texture in the unforced recorded sound of this disc. She takes Casals’s Song of the Birds daringly slow, but in her hands it works – a deeply expressive, mournful song that feels timeless, its rising arpeggios stretched out to infinity.

Saint-Saëns’s frothy Allegro appassionata is lightly, tightly played, with a surprising but effective long rubato after its last ultra-high scale, leading to a passage of sweet stillness. This talent for shifting quickly and subtly from one mood to another also enhances Dvo?rák’s Rondo, while the middle section of Tchaikovsky’s own arrangement of the Andante cantabile from his First String Quartet again shows off Chang’s peculiar talent for creating an atmosphere of stillness.

Lalo’s Cello Concerto, perhaps a less obvious choice for the disc, opens with real force and gravitas. Chang shows off her gift for expansive bowing during the first movement, using a continuous bow pressure to good effect in its long, flowing phrases, and the central Intermezzo is gossamer light. Lalo’s Spanish ancestry comes through convincingly in the elegiac introduction to the last movement, progressing to a joyous romp, with much neatly executed passagework.