Saturday, July 8, 2006; C09

NSO and Itzhak Perlman

The season's first National Symphony Orchestra concert at Wolf Trap showed that there is no such thing as a surfeit of Mozart, despite all of this year's celebrations of the 250th anniversary of his birth. The reason was superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman, who not only played but also conducted Thursday night at the Filene Center.

The all-Mozart program fell neatly into two halves. Perlman opened with two movements for violin and orchestra: the Adagio in E, K. 261, and the Rondo in C, K. 373. He played with almost impossible sweetness of tone and a delicacy that nevertheless carried to the capacity audience. Perlman's playfully puckish delight in K. 373 was especially pleasing.

Perlman then led Symphony No. 40 with deliberate tempos and very warm strings. Keeping this G Minor masterpiece dark but not tragic, he made it almost a serenade for strings, downplaying the other instruments.

The second half of the concert opened with a speedy, sparkling "Marriage of Figaro" Overture. The orchestra, although too large for Mozart, sounded bright and bracing under Perlman's enthusiastic direction.

Mozart's final symphony, No. 41 in C ("Jupiter"), got a celebratory treatment, with prominent timpani and ringing trumpets. The strongly rhythmic approach still emphasized strings -- the cellos in the second movement were especially good -- but Perlman let the whole orchestra sing out in a speedy, intense finale.

The NSO players sounded pleasurably relaxed, regaling the audience with warmth, clarity and abundant charm.

-- Mark J. Estren

Kelly Clarkson

Kelly Clarkson has in just a few years graduated from the little screen all the way to the biggest rock rooms. And the original American Idol didn't make it this far on her voice alone. Clarkson's headlining show at Nissan Pavilion on Thursday proved her personality is big enough to fill any stage or screen.

On the job, Clarkson oozes an exuberance that most grown-ups don't exude anywhere, let alone in the workplace. She put everything she's got into every song, whether going through the incredibly crafted pop hits from her last CD -- "Behind These Hazel Eyes," "Walk Away," "Breakaway" -- to an extended version of "Go," an unreleased tune that serves as a soundtrack for a new Ford Motor Co. commercial.

At the high points of most of her songs, Clarkson would grab the top of her pants and start bouncing wildly, right on the beat. This signature move, which comes off as a melding of Madonna's Running Man and the dance of a little kid who really has to tinkle, isn't as technically profound as it is thrilling. But it is quite thrilling.

She's using her tour to debut material from her next CD, scheduled for release in early 2007. Much of the new stuff is heavy.

On the rocker "Anymore," she sang some verses into a second microphone that dirtied up her voice, a la the White Stripes. On "Yeah," she flaunted her ability to scream in key. Her covers were obscure: With props and lighting, the stage turned into a Cajun swamp as Clarkson sat near a faux dock to sing "Home," a song she got from Louisiana soul singer Marc Broussard. But during an unplugged version of "Because of You," an autobiographical tune about growing up in a broken home, Clarkson showed that her soulfulness comes through even when she's singing pure pop. She ended the night with perhaps her purest pop slice, "Since U Been Gone." Clarkson began the tune, which is meant to empower the recently dumped, while strolling through the audience, but got back to the stage in time to wail such great lines as "I'm so movin' on!" and to give the fans one more fabulous round of her have-to-tinkle dance. You go, girl.

-- Dave McKenna

BSO's 'Best of Baroque'

Chestnuts from the 17th century reworked for modern orchestra gave baroque music a romantic spin Thursday at Strathmore.

Ironically, the lightest piece on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's "Best of Baroque" program was the one most solidly set in the romantic era. Brahms's Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, orchestrated by Edmund Rubbra, showcased every section of the orchestra with bright harmonies and keen staccatos.

Through Hamilton Harty's lush reorchestration, Handel's Overture to "Music for the Royal Fireworks" was transformed into a late-romantic gem. The sharp corners of the baroque style were smoothed over by BSO Associate Conductor Andrew Constantine's relaxed tempos in a glorious mass of sound.

Highlighting an oft-maligned instrument, Telemann's Concerto for Two Violas featured outstanding soloists: the BSO's own Peter Minkler and Christian Colberg. Perfectly balanced with the orchestra, they played together with a rare sensitivity.

Edward Elgar infused Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor with his signature colorful orchestration. The work was undeniably Elgar's as it approached its climax, with a battery of percussionists, punching brass, harp glissandos and an enormous crescendo into the finale. Leopold Stokowski's orchestral arrangement of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, layered the orchestra section by section: cellos, trombones, clarinets, violins and flutes all imitated a great organ, which is the instrument designed to emulate an orchestra. Bach's mastery of counterpoint and Stokowski's command of orchestration added up to a memorable conclusion to the concert.

-- Gail Wein

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