The National Philharmonic called the program it brought to the Strathmore Arts Center on Saturday “Beyond Peter and the Wolf,” but a better name for it might have been “The Many Varieties of Prokofiev.” A composer known best for his wry playfulness and color-laden orchestrations, Prokofiev had a lyrical side that doesn’t often get the hearing it deserves, and this program delivered both the splash and the song in abundance.
With associate conductor Victoria Gau a sure hand at the helm, the evening’s stars were pianist Brian Ganz, whose light touch in the quiet moments of the 3rd Piano Concerto was as powerful as the speed and balance he mustered as he raced through the finale; and mezzo soprano Magdalena Wor, who filled the “Field of the Dead” movement of the music from the “Alexander Nevsky” Cantata with a voice rich and heavy with foreboding.
The huge National Philharmonic Chorale slathered an opulently creamy tone on the nationalistic hymns of the Cantata and danced lightly as it recounted their victories. Maybe it was the considerable distance between chorus and conductor in that hall that caused the delay in some choral entrances, but distance couldn’t have accounted for moments of scattered orchestral attacks that dotted both the concerto and the opening “Lieutenant Kijé” Suite. Otherwise, however, the orchestra sounded lively and confident. The winds had an excellent evening and the strings, which sometimes couldn’t get their runs exactly together, nevertheless kept textures balanced and produced cold sounds in the “Nevsky” third movement that could have chilled the fires of hell.
Joan Reinthaler is a freelance writer.