Monday, April 25, 2005

National Philharmonic Orchestra

The National Philharmonic Orchestra gave such an exciting and idiomatic performance of two Brahms works Saturday at the Music Center at Strathmore that some listeners found it impossible to withhold applause between movements. Though the clapping was distracting, the performers took it in stride and refused to let it detract from their music.

In the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15, featuring the elegant Santiago Rodriguez, the University of Maryland piano professor blended sensitively with the orchestra's tensioned statements, sometimes hovering above the pathos like a mist, other times giving the melodies an impassioned clarity. Rodriguez's hands skipped across the keys fluidly, making the work's awkward reaches and jumps look and sound entirely effortless. In the prayerful second movement, Music Director Piotr Gajewski coaxed sweet sounds from the orchestra. The strings, in particular, produced pianissimo moments that resonated with poignancy. Rodriguez, whose lyricism was especially touching in this Adagio, created a contemplative dialogue with these musicians. He curtailed the premature applause at its end by jumping into the finale with a buoyancy that propelled the concerto to a triumphant conclusion.

Gajewski's energetic, batonless conducting in Brahms's Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68, produced fine, dramatic playing, particularly in the final movement. The cinematic quality of the symphony, from the creeping pizzicati to the celebratory reprisals of the chorale, showed off the NPO's individual and ensemble talents.

-- Grace Jean

I Solisti Della Scala Trio

You don't expect an oboe and clarinet to team up with a piano for an entire concert. But they did Friday, when I Solisti Della Scala Trio performed at the Italian Embassy in an evening of breathtaking artistry. To celebrate the re-opening of Milan's La Scala, oboist Francesco Di Rosa, clarinetist Fabrizio Meloni and pianist Nazzareno Carusi, reincarnated vocal jewels of the Italian operatic stage as "arias" arranged for winds. Di Rosa and Meloni became voices in operas by Bellini, Rossini, Verdi and Donizetti, rivaling moments of supreme vocal artistry. Stefano Squarzina's devilish "Verdian Fantasia" (a world premiere) called for a bravura technique that only winds can muster. Arrangements by Hyacinthe Klose, Paolo Blundo and Benedetto Carulli were met with equal operatic ardor and virtuosity.

Meloni set his clarinet a-sail in rushes of wondrous molten legato, swelling and ebbing in passages of total control and magical colors. Di Rosa's oboe had an astounding multi-dimensional resonance, even up high. Carusi transformed the keyboard into a 100-piece orchestra, his playing especially fine-tuned to the nuances of each aria. As the musicians soloed or combined, Gilda's "Caro nome" came through as Verdi's ecstatic reverie from "Rigoletto" should. In various duets operatic characters sprang to life with utter human passion, the instruments seeming entwined in torrential love or writhing in lethal anger as if on a real stage. Meloni and Carusi opened things with Poulenc's Sonata from 1962, outlining its insane beauties with dreamy pianissimos and tellingly delicate emotional shading. Di Rosa played another Poulenc from the same year, underlining the intimate refinement that is French to the core.

-- Cecelia Porter

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