NSO Puts Beethoven's 'Best' Foot Forward

Saturday, August 2, 2008

It's hard to say whether "Beethoven's Best," as the National Symphony Orchestra dubbed its Thursday evening program at Wolf Trap, truly represented the composer's finest music. The evening was surely full of favorites: climax-filled scores from the composer's heroic period, when his imagination turned toward Napoleon and the revolutionary events occurring around him. This exclamatory stuff is meat-and-potatoes for any respectable orchestra, and the NSO worked solidly with some promising young musicians.

A rollicking account of the "Leonore" Overture No. 3, Op. 72, led into the tempestuous back-and-forth of the "Emperor" concerto. Joyce Yang, a 22-year-old pianist from Korea, was the soloist. In recent recitals, Yang revealed poetic and sensitive pianism. Here, she showed herself capable of hurling thunderbolts. The contrasts between orchestra and soloist in the opening movement were that much more startling for the detail and power in Yang's playing. The lyrical second movement was a poignant beam of light out of darkness, while the finale resolved in a blaze of triumphant sounds.

This celebratory spirit prevailed in the second half, given over to vocal works. A bevy of singers, including members of the Wolf Trap Opera Company and the Choral Arts Society of Washington brought exuberance and fire to selections from the composer's only opera, "Fidelio," and the finale from the Ninth Symphony, "Ode to Joy" and all. Emil de Cou, the NSO's associate conductor, expertly managed the diverse forces.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

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