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Classical Beat
Posted at 12:46 PM ET, 11/06/2012

Review digest: of Lang Lang, Midori, Josh Bell, and more

Lang Lang started his week-long residency with the National Symphony Orchestra with a solo recital on Sunday afternoon. In the weekend’s Washington Post, Katherine Boyle wrote about the Lang Lang phenomenon; while in my review of the concert, I wrote of my sudden doubt about my own reactions to his playing. Plenty of people I know, aficionados and non-classical-listeners alike, find him mannered, overblown, and think that his playing can often distort the music, which was my initial reaction to the three Mozart sonatas he played on Sunday. Yet a lot of people are deeply moved, and not for superficial reasons (here’s a blog post someone linked in the comments to my review; well worth reading). I’m glad to have my opinions challenged right at the start of his residency; it’s an extra stimulus to keep me listening vigilantly all week and trying to avoid facile judgments.
Violinist Andrey Baranov, the winner of this year’s Queen Elisabeth Competition, performed at the Phillips Collection on Nov. 4. (Credit: Neda Navaee) (Neda Navaee)

Last week, I heard and reviewed another worthwhile performance that not everyone will embrace: Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, performed by the National Symphony Orchestra. It was a treat just to hear it done live, and I was glad to hear that the house was fuller on Saturday night than it had been on Thursday. On the intervening night, Christoph Eschenbach played chamber music with his musicians; Charles T. Downey reviewed.

It was a big week for big names in DC; both Midori and Josh Bell gave recitals on the same night. Stephen Brookes reviewed Midori; Robert Battey reviewed Bell.

Battey also checked out the American Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein, using the term “under” rather loosely, given Botstein’s weaknesses as a conductor. He had nothing but praise, however, for the Escher Quartet — “a quartet to watch.”

Brookes covered the finale of the Post-Classical Ensemble’s Shostakovich festival, including orchestral transcriptions of the 8th and 10th quartets. He also liked the young pianist Michael Brown, a last-minute replacement for Leon McCawley.

Joan Reinthaler found the violinist Andrey Baranov adroit but cool in his Phillips Collection recital. She also enjoyed the Amernet Quartet at the Kennedy Center, though she wished they’d brought some contemporary work along with them.

Cecelia Porter was impressed by the pianist Alessio Bax, but also a little exhausted. But she greatly enjoyed the soprano Emmanuelle de Negri, presented by Opera Lafayette.

In earlier coverage, Charles T. Downey was glad to hear the pianist Alexandre Tharaud, back for his first DC recital since 2008. He was less enthralled by Ethel’s performance with rocker Todd Lundgren. (Readers weighed in with different perspectives.) However, he enjoyed the election-themed concert “Mr. Gershwin Goes to Washington,” presented by the New York Festival of Song.
Robert Battey enjoyed the DC debut of the violinist Paul Huang (see review). (Photo by Christian Steiner) (Christian Steiner - Christian Steiner)

Robert Battey wasn’t crazy about the idiosyncratic playing of the Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey. But he was quite taken with the stylish, clean approach of the young violinist Paul Huang in his Kennedy Center debut.

Joan Reinthaler appreciated the “lavish virtuosity” of I Musici di Roma. She also took in two all-American choral programs, praising the development of the group Choralis, but expressing some disappointment in the program Rose of Sharon, saying the CD was better. Cecelia Porter mostly enjoyed Robert Shafer and the City Choir of Washington.

Stephen Brookes heard Musicians from Marlboro playing, among other things, a Ligeti trio — “an absolutely riveting piece, and an unforgettable performance.”

Finally, welcome back to Grace Jean, reviewing again for the Post after a hiatus. She saw the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under Cornelius Meister featuring two of its own in the Brahms double concerto

By  |  12:46 PM ET, 11/06/2012

Tags:  NSO, Lang Lang, Eschenbach, Battey, Reinthaler, Brookes, Downey, Porter, Jean

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