Sarah Chang plays Bruch with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra

Sarah Chang
The Star-Ledger

By Ronni Reich

Sarah Chang leaned back, a platform heel kicking out from under her emerald green gown as she tore through a furiously spiraling run of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Her seemingly endless bravado suited the music excellently — and her precision was stunning.

Chang’s performance was gratifyingly assured. The concerto is a standard piece of music, but Chang made it sound as tailor-made for her as her bold, formfitting dress.

As the guest soloist with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra under music director Jacques Lacombe, Chang gave a thoroughly impressive and entertaining performance Thursday at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center that showed off her virtuosity.

Chang, who made her debut with the New York Philharmonic when she was 8, showed her authority in the concerto’s moody opening and its gypsy-tinged finale. She maintained the music’s exciting initial build-up as she seamlessly integrated trills and double-stops and impeccably dispatched vigorous passages. Lacombe and the NJSO matched her energy and strong pulse with playing that was taut and rich in character.

Chang’s presence was dramatic and her approach often muscular, with a confident sense of attack. She also employed a lush sound in her lower range, crystalline top notes and a nice focus in the work’s lyrical portions.

A less congenial fit for the orchestra was Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, "Romantic."
Lacombe and the musicians delivered the work’s big thrills: the ascents into huge, shattering climaxes, the tense chromatic undulations, the rich brass chords. At the outset of the finale, rumbling timpani led a passage that had sound of such depth it seemed almost able to bore through the stage floor.

Still, the requirements of the work did not play to the NJSO’s strengths. The prominent horn part, in particular, was inconsistently played, and there were tone quality and intonation issues throughout the brass section.

Lacombe also sometimes seemed to push through some of the lighter or calmer music between its epic heights — most notably an airy, somewhat pastoral violin-led section within the first movement — rather than play up contrasts.

Originally composed in 1874, the score was subsequently revised multiple times. Lacombe chose the 1878-80 version.

The concert also included a fluent rendition of the "Good Friday Spell" from Wagner’s "Parsifal." The program will be repeated tonight at the State Theatre and tomorrow at NJPAC.