Fischer's Recipe: Stir Vigorously With Baton

Ivan Fischer is to become the NSO's principal conductor next year.
Ivan Fischer is to become the NSO's principal conductor next year. (Budapest Festival Orchestra)
By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 10, 2007

Iv¿n Fischer, the National Symphony Orchestra's principal guest conductor, is an exciting new presence in Washington musical life, as he proved once again yesterday afternoon with a program of Mozart, Dvorak and Smetana at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

The NSO works hard for Fischer, who is due to become its principal conductor next year. Indeed, the electricity he inevitably brings to his musicmaking is both his decided strength and a potential liability. I welcomed his volcanic all-Beethoven evening last week and I was equally taken by his program yesterday. Still, there is a lot of repertory where tension is not a primary virtue and in which I can imagine wanting a gentler hand and a greater sense of space. Can Fischer deliver this? We shall find out; in the meantime, we are privileged to hear him at his driven best.

The program began with Dvorak's "Notturno," a lovely miniature that made use of the NSO's massed cellos (all in all, probably the orchestra's strongest section) and offered by far the most lush and expansive rendition of the afternoon.

By all reports (including his own letters), Mozart was not overly fond of the flute and his compositions for it were rare and somewhat grudging. That said, the Flute Concerto No. 1 in G is entertainment music on a high level, especially when played with the panache Emmanuel Pahud brought to it yesterday. What a full, rich, luscious tone he has, perhaps the most appealing sound since that of the young James Galway. Fischer's accompaniment was appropriately spick-and-span and if there remained a characteristic sense of urgency, it was always a happy urgency.

It was the second half of the program that won the day. Fischer assembled what he called a "Czech bouquet" -- four sweetly simple "Moravian Duets" by Dvorak (sung here by the excellent and deliciously blended voices of soprano Carolyn Betty and mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor), intersticed by three long selections from Smetana's grandest orchestral work, "M¿ Vlast" ("My Country").

There is not much to say about the duets -- this was beautiful music, beautifully sung -- but the Smetana selections were extraordinary. The first of them, "From Bohemia's Woods and Fields," sounds a little like the work of a 19th-century precursor of Philip Glass, with its motoric arpeggiations and churning crescendos. The second, "S¿rka," has much in common with Smetana's great compatriot Leos Janacek. It is geometrical music, its sections built block by sonic block.

"The Moldau" -- far and away the most famous music Smetana ever wrote -- closed the program. The opening wind flourishes were probably taken at too fast a tempo for accurate realization (in any case, they were not very polished yesterday), but the great hymnlike melody surged gloriously and the auroreal soft section just before the finale could not have been more mistily evanescent.

The "Notturno," "From Bohemia's Woods and Fields" and the "Moravian Duets" were all new to the NSO's repertory, smart and sonorous additions. The concert will be repeated tonight at 8.

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