The Firebird and Xavier de Maistre, National Symphony Orchestra, Taipei

Alberto Ginestera

Harp Concerto, Op. 25

Felix Godefroid

Carnaval de Venise

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Though mainlining in High German classics – Wagner, Mahler – the National Symphony Orchestra continues to keep up an eclectic programming schedule.

Last Sunday, Lü Shao-chia yielded the podium to Russian Daniel Raiskin. But it was harpist Xavier de Maistre who stole the show with his limber-fingered command of an instrument that is hardly staple concerto fare.

The Harp concerto (op. 25) by Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera proved the performance’s highlight, sandwiched between Russian mainstays Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky (in Rimsky-Korsakov’s arrangement) and the Firebird.

It wasn’t clear how the program fit together, but no matter: the Harp concerto sparkled with quick-footed Latin rhythms that will be more familiar to listeners from Aaron Copland’s El Salon Mexico (in fact Ginastera studied with Copland). De Maistre is a true virtuoso, bringing sonorities out of an often-typecast instrument. The harp’s is not an obvious choice for a solo instrument, but de Maistre had the crowd enraptured with sweeps and arpeggios as resounding as any pianist’s. One hopes that, with such harp talent available, new commissions of works specifically for the instrument will be forthcoming.

Thunderous applause demanded an encore, and de Maistre provided Felix Godefroid’s Carnaval de Venise.

The NSO, usually versatile, did not outdo itself on the other fare. Though they summoned their gift for the string-driven shimmery-menace that works well for sections of Night and Firebird, and though the latter piece managed a rousing conclusion, neither displayed great range or depth. The acoustics in the National Concert Hall are top-rate, so perhaps the flatness resulted from a too-quick pivot from Latin lightness to Russian heft.

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