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-- Joe Banno

Russian National Orchestra

Silky-smooth strings; warm, winsome woodwinds; bright, brilliant brass; poised, piquant percussion -- the Russian National Orchestra evinced them all Friday night under the direction of principal guest conductor Vladimir Jurowski at George Mason University's Center for the Arts.

Stravinsky's arrangement of three excerpts from "Sleeping Beauty" showcased chamber music precision and perfect instrumental balance. Next came a Jurowski-arranged suite from Stravinsky's "Le Baiser de la Fee" ("The Fairy's Kiss"), a ballet in which Stravinsky reshaped and expanded early Tchaikovsky songs and piano works to tell an allegorical tale of that composer's tangled relationship with his muse. Jurowski's unusual conducting style was effective: Slight gestures elicited huge variations in dynamics and helped make difficult rhythmic changes sound effortless. Concertmaster Alexei Bruni played his lengthy solos with the utmost grace.

Suite No. 3 for Orchestra, the longest and most elaborate of Tchaikovsky's four orchestral suites, was the concert's major work. The first movement brought emotionalism without wallowing, the second was filled with delicacy and warmth, and the third had rhythmic bite. The lengthy finale -- which starts with a deceptively simple theme that evolves through variations toward a grand and grandiose polonaise -- was filled with wondrous raucousness.

Afterward, the orchestra was visibly tired -- Tchaikovsky is particularly unforgiving of string players -- but gamely offered two "Sleeping Beauty" encores, including a waltz that practically oozed charm. The multiple standing ovations were richly deserved.

-- Mark J. Estren

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