Debuts with National Symphony do well at Wolf Trap


Conductor Emil de Cou was behind solo violinist Nicola Benedetti at several points in the Finale, and could have balanced the orchestra better in the loud passages overall, but harpist Dotian Levalier provided solid support. (Scott Suchman/The Kennedy Center)
July 29, 2012

Many debuts last Saturday evening with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap: a British violinist in the Bruch “Scottish Fantasy,” and four American vocal soloists in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. All did well.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti played with uncommon seriousness, focus and musicality. In the pea soup of a Washington summer’s evening, strings and bows become balky and recalcitrant, and intonation is a particular challenge on damp fingerboards. Benedetti overcame these obstacles for the most part, a few sour chords notwithstanding.

It was odd she didn’t have the piece memorized for such a high-profile engagement, but the artistry was strong; each movement sharply characterized, and a rich, vocal sound throughout. She seemed to tire near the end, as the passage-work became prosaic. Still, Benedetti is a very fine soloist, who deserves to be heard on a Kennedy Center subscription program. Conductor Emil de Cou was behind her at several points in the Finale, and could have balanced the orchestra better in the loud passages overall, but harpist Dotian Levalier provided solid support.

In the Beethoven, the NSO was joined by the Washington Chorus under Julian Wachner and soloists from the Wolf Trap Opera program: soprano Corinne Winters, mezzo Margaret Gawrysiak, tenor Jason Slayden and baritone Ryan Kuster. Given the challenges of the venue, the performance was a success. De Cou is not the deepest musician, but from all his work with ballet companies he does know the importance of maintaining a steady tempo, and the first and third movements benefited in particular.

I wish the audio engineers had trusted the soloists a bit more; all sang well but were unnaturally amplified. The chorus seemed to do it just with vocal muscle, and though the tone could get opaque, it was energetic, on-pitch singing. Everyone sang and played with great concentration, and the power of Beethoven’s vision, even in an unsubtle rendition as this, brought an extended, feverish ovation.

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