Cho, Noseda and NSO prove simpatico partners in Ravel

Fri Apr 26, 2019 at 12:21 pm
By Joan Reinthaler

Seong-Jin Cho performed Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G with Gianandrea Noseda and the National Symphony Orchestra Thursday night.

At 24, Seong-Jin Cho already has a huge career as a recording artist, recitalist and concerto soloist, performing with orchestras around the world.

The 2016 Gold Medal winner of the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw was solo protagonist with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center Thursday night in a sparkling, superbly articulated performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major.

The South Korean pianist has worked with NSO music director Gianandrea Noseda in a number of concerts abroad as well as on a recording of music by Debussy.

Their collaboration Thursday night reflected both familiarity and confidence in each other. There are long stretches in this concerto where the piano functions as part of the orchestral texture, adding a gently percussive edge to even quiet passages. Cho never tried to play over the orchestra, trusting Noseda to find the right orchestral weight.

That left Cho the freedom to move through the music with a light, sometimes even gentle touch. Between the two of them, Cho and Noseda found ideal balances that preserved transparency and allowed colors to bloom. Some of the evening’s loveliest moments came without orchestra at all—as in the slow movement’s extended piano solo, where Cho’s quiet introspection was a buffer between the extroverted sophistication of the outer movements

The orchestra took a little time to mesh gears in the first movement, maybe unnerved by the oddly feeble whip crack that opened the piece. But once they got started, the ensemble clicked into place and Ravel’s nonchalance and bluesy attitude took over.

Cho’s scintillating playing in the final movement brought the audience to its feet, roaring for an encore. The pianist gave them Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de Lin (The Girl With the Flaxen Hair)–as delicate and full of wonder as the Ravel was insouciantly suggestive.

The concert opened with a driving account of Cesar Franck’s tone poem Le Chasseur Maudit (The Accursed Huntsman).

Belgian by birth, Franck may have spent most of his life in Paris but he chose an almost Wagnerian story for this piece and set it to music that sounds more Germanic than French. The tale tells of a man who chooses to hunt instead of going to church on Sunday, wreaks havoc in his path and, for his sins is himself hunted down by demons and condemned to being chased forever.

Horns are ascendant here and the NSO’s brass acquitted themselves admirably. An animated Noseda propelled the orchestra irresistibly through passages of manic energy and tensely fearsome quiet to its explosive and terrifying denouement.

On the heels of Franck’s Gothic darkness and Ravel’s jazz-like cool, Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”), which ended the evening, seemed a throw-back to the comforts of Romantic music without a message.

Noseda paced things carefully, allowing ripples of tension to accumulate but never sounding premeditated, building an air of suspense that suffused the whole performance. The occasional majestic interjection of hymn-like organ chords served to calm things down when the music got a little over-excited.

William Neil, at the organ console, managed registrations that allowed the sound of the concert hall’s huge instrument to embed itself in the orchestra’s textures, providing an aura of soft sheen and only letting go in the finale with the kind of triumphant blasts the score called for.

This is music full of lush 19th-century harmonies and textures, forgiving of ensemble imperfections in its inner voices as long as accents and subtleties of dynamics are in place. In this performance, the orchestra managed to project the music’s spirit while not always nailing its details.

The program will be repeated 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

One Response to “Cho, Noseda and NSO prove simpatico partners in Ravel”

  1. Posted Apr 30, 2019 at 7:00 am by Elizabeth

    On Saturday night, the encore piece by Cho was Claire de Lune.

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