Yo-Yo Ma, National Symphony and an excellent Dvorak cello concerto


Yo-Yo Ma performs at Wolf Trap. (Griffin Harrington for Wolf Trap)
August 3, 2014

On one hand, it was a foregone conclusion that the amassed public went wild for Yo-Yo Ma’s concert with the National Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night. The tickets in Wolf Trap’s Filene Center and on the lawn had sold out quickly, and people had battled the road-choking traffic, vast crowd and mild rain just to get there. On the other hand, Ma has a long history with Dvorak’s cello concerto, and he and the orchestra gave an excellent, if not perfect, performance of it.

In the second movement and wherever else Dvorak gave the solo part a slow, ardent melody, Ma’s singing tone was irresistible, given rhythmic elasticity by a heart-melting, never predictable rubato.

At times, one missed a more savage forte sound, and some of the more challenging passages, especially high on the A string, were perhaps not brilliant, but it all seemed part of a deeply personal performance.

Guest conductor Thomas Wilkins and the NSO accompanied with sensitivity, with fine solos from the horns and clarinets and plenty of movement-ending oomph from the brass. In the violin solos toward the end of the third movement, though, one regretted the absence of the section’s first two principal players.

Some minor ensemble misalignments throughout the evening called attention to the occasional lack of clarity in Wilkins’s beat, but he helped the NSO sculpt phrases and dynamic contours in consistently musical ways.

In the first suite from Edvard Grieg’s music for “Peer Gynt,” the sighing shimmer of the muted strings was particularly lovely in “Ase’s Death.” The evening opened with the overture and suite from Leonard Bernstein’s operetta “Candide,” given plenty of chirping woodwind sound in the “Best of All Possible Worlds” section and Hollywood schmaltz in “Let Our Garden Grow.”

Downey is a freelance writer.

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