Vladimir Lande has guest-conducted the National Gallery Orchestra in a number of concerts over the past year or so, and you might expect that he would be familiar with the acoustics at the gallery. You wouldn’t have known it by the performance he led there Sunday — all 19th-century Russian, all overwrought and over loud; it was a veritable tsunami of sound.
It is possible to tame that room. Richard Bales, the founding director of the orchestra, regularly conducted Bruckner there, letting the hall’s resonance fool the ear into thinking that his small orchestra was Bruckner-sized. He let the hall do the work instead of trying to wring fortissimos from his forces.
An enthusiastic reading of Glinka’s “Ruslan and Ludmilla” Overture warmed everyone up for Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor with Xiayin Wang as soloist. Seated about an arm’s-length from the piano, I didn’t get to hear much of the orchestra (or even see it with the piano lid up), but I did get to watch an impressive pianist at work. Wang’s finger work was precise and strong (as it would have to be for Rachmaninoff). Her drive was unrelenting and her concentration intense. It was clear that she was in command and that Lande and the orchestra were to follow, which they did well. From my too-close vantage point, the piano-orchestra balance may have been a mess, but she was great to watch.
In hopes that distance might ameliorate the noise assault, I found a seat further back after intermission for Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, but to no avail. Lande whipped the orchestra into ever louder climaxes, and the hall’s echoes played havoc with everything but some nice woodwind playing.