Mstislav Rostropovich, now 78 but looking very fit and energetic,
guest-conducted the National SO in an all-Tchaikovsky program last night.
It was a fabulous concert and made the next-to-last installment in my
season ticket a rousing success.
The NSO started off with the Nutcracker Suite. Just one hit after
another, all the familiar dances, the Fantasia selections; everything
you want to hear. Rostropovich took some of the pieces, especially the
Sugarplum Fairy, in more of a symphonic mode than a ballet. The bassoon's
downward glissandos between the celesta passages were *very* slow; a
ballerina would have fallen over waiting for the bassoon to resolve.
There were several other details that were audible at the slower pace,
and the NSO never let these so-familiar pieces descend into cliche.
This is just the way a familiar piece should be illuminated.
Violinist Mayu Kishima then came out and simply slayed the Violin
Concerto. Mayu didn't make one mistake that I noticed, never fell out
of tempo, and played her passages soulfully and with enough volume to
fill the KC Concert Hall, especially in the low passages. Most listers
know that Leopold Auer, the world-famous violinist to whom Tchaikovsky
offered the Concerto, rejected it as unplayable. Did I mention that Ms.
Kishima is all of 19 years old? And we Washingtonians felt as if we had
been treated to two Tchaikovsky Violin Concertos, as the audience, ahem,
applauded enthusiastically after the first movement. Those of you who
are familar with the Concerto will know why, and it's not as if Ms.
Kashima hadn't earned it.
After intermission, we heard Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. Again,
hit after hit. Rostropovich, who must know this music by heart, brought
out so many nuances that I felt I was hearing this warhorse for the first
time. And the audience redeemed itself: there was no applause at the
false ending near the close of the finale. Rostropovich, possibly fearing
a premature Bravo, kept his arms up to ward off the applauders. He and
the NSO finished in great style. Afterward, he came around to the various
soloists, kissed them on both cheeks, and applauded them. I hadn't seen
anything so Russian in years. And Rostropovich is so believable, even
the American men in the orchestra didn't seem to mind the affection.
This was a great night and a definite highlight of my NSO season ticket.
Next in line is the last concert of the season: Mozart Symphony 32, the
Britten Violin Concerto, and Shostakovich Symphony No. 11.