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-- Joan Reinthaler
National Philharmonic Orchestra At Strathmore
"Snippets of Sound" would have been an apt title for the National Philharmonic's concert Saturday night at the Music Center at Strathmore. Music Director Piotr Gajewski conducted six works (from four centuries) with a total of 18 movements -- a pinch of Pachelbel, a modicum of Mozart, an iota of Elgar, a glimmer of Glass and, at the end, a more substantive soupcon of Shostakovich.
Pachelbel's Canon -- the famous one that everyone plays -- and two of Mozart's delightful early Divertimenti (K. 137 and K. 138) were pleasant throwaways. The chamber-size, strings-only orchestra seemed just to go through the motions, making the Andante of K.138 soporific and rushing the finale while missing its high-spirited good humor.
The players seemed more attuned to the 19th and 20th centuries. Elgar's Serenade for Strings was excellent, the gorgeous Larghetto being especially expressive and the quiet playing outstanding.
Glass's "Company" also went well. It is an odd piece of theater music, designed to fill in some of the many blanks in Samuel Beckett's eponymous work. Minimalist music with a mostly narrow dynamic range, it challenges players to make small changes meaningful and listeners to accept drama and portents that lead nowhere.
For Shostakovich's impish Piano Concerto No. 1, the strings were joined by Brian Ganz on piano and Chris Gekker on trumpet. Ganz really gave his all, single-handedly (or double-handedly) overpowering the orchestra in the first movement and blending lyricism with impassioned cadenzas throughout. The sardonic, silly finale, always a great crowd-pleaser, was a frantically fast triumph for all the players.
-- Mark J. Estren