National Symphony Orchestra
Two famously cursed rings of power had their way with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap on Thursday night -- but proved no match for a ringing affirmation of life.
Conductor Emil de Cou started with a medley from "The Fellowship of the Ring" -- music that fits the film beautifully but sounds like plastic in concert. Then came three superficially exciting excerpts from Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelung" tetralogy. "Siegfried's Rhine Journey" is portentous, with its leitmotifs of the ring and its curse, and "Siegfried's Funeral March" is both heroic and deeply depressing. But capping them with "The Ride of the Valkyries," from a previous "Ring" opera, made a musical mishmash that approached self-parody. Wagner would have loathed being played, however well, as pop music.
Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" was far more effective. This 1937 secular cantata is Part 1 of a trilogy, though "Catulli Carmina" (1943) and "Trionfo di Afrodite" (1951) are not often performed. For "Carmina Burana" -- the name means "Songs of Beuren," the town where the manuscripts were found -- Orff eschewed modern harmonies to present medieval poetry about life and love.
De Cou treated this percussive work as sonic spectacle, with the Washington Chorus in full, intense voice throughout. In contrast, baritone Weston Hurt brought nuanced understanding to his solos; soprano Maureen McKay's voice was captivating and subtle in her smaller role; and tenor Javier Abreu had a fine falsetto turn as a goose roasting on a spit. The opening and closing hymn to fate was a dramatic paean to the original wheel of fortune.
-- Mark J. Estren
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of guest conductor Edwin Outwater, descended on the Music Center at Strathmore on Thursday night for an evening of "Mozart's Hottest Hits." Putting the elegant title aside for a moment (what's next? "Beethoven's Funniest Home Symphonies"?), Outwater showed that he is, in fact, an accomplished Mozart conductor, with a lyric sensibility and a gift for blending high drama with subtle, convincing emotion.
The program was, as promised, wall-to-wall chestnuts, from the iconic "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" to the magnificent Symphony No. 41 (the "Jupiter"). But Outwater conjured fresh and engaging interpretations, and the evening felt like visiting old friends who still have a lot to say. He infused the well-mannered "Nachtmusik" with a distinct electrical current, and was joined by violinist Soovin Kim for a sweeping, hugely enjoyable account of the Violin Concerto No. 3 in G, K. 216.
Kim's a young violinist we're likely to hear more from. A superb musician with a fine tone (that 1709 Stradivarius he plays probably doesn't hurt), he is assured and imaginative. Outwater had a little trouble waking the orchestra from what appeared to be a mid-concert nap, but by the opening of the unbearably tender and gorgeous Adagio, both conductor and soloist were soaring.
The "Jupiter" is, of course, one of Mozart's most relentlessly captivating symphonies. It's also relentlessly complex, especially all that diabolical counterpoint in the last movement. But Outwater produced a near-crystalline performance that kept the music tight and exciting. Definitely hot -- and definitely a hit.