Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Jerzy Semkow came to the Kennedy Center two weeks ago to conduct the St. louis Symphony, of which he is music director. Tuesday night he returned to the Concert Hall as guest conductor with the National Symphony.
As he made clear in the C Major Symphony, No. 36, by Mozart, and in the D Minor Symphony of Schumann, Semkow is a musician of expert abilities and taste. Without the slightest hint of excess drama, he led the orchestra in a Mozart that had life and elegance, with generous amounts of distinctive phrasing.
The Schumann is one of the tricky works of the repertoire, calling for a high degree of sensitivity in its melting romance, wherein the conductor and concermaster must be of one mind. Somkow and Miran Kojian shaped this passage as if it were one of the lovely Schumann songs it recalls.
With Schumann's peculiar problems of rhythmic repetitions, the outer movements of the symphony need very much the kind of freedom in tempo that Semkow used. It kept the work moving well.
The evening's soloist was Soviet violinist Viktor Tretyakov, who played the Firs Concerto of Prokofiev with extreme beauty. This is one of the truly exquisite works in the repetoire, unlike any other, and rich and with original ideas and treatment
Its opening always seems a moment of magic as the soloist steals in over the quietest sounds from the orchestra. Its most beautiful pages, however, are those that introduce the final movement. Tretyakov produces a luscious tone of great refinement, while technical hurdles disappear under his hands as if they had not meant to intrude at all. Semkow and the orchestra gave the soloist, who obviously pleased them highly, an almost ideal frame within which to work.
If the first pages of the concerto could achieve the near perfection of its finale, it would be a memorable performance in all ways.