This week the National Symphony's Kennedy Center concerts are sold out entirely on the basis of Mstislav Rostropovich and the orchestra. There are no guests soloists, no visiting coning conductor or other celebrities - it is the NSO show and a good one.
Rostropovich made up a finely balanced evening with two symphonies, one very familiar, the second of Brahms, the other relatively unfamiliar, the "Manfred" by Tchaikovsky.
The latter, at the end of the evening, was a succession of volcanic outbursts, lyrical episodes of exquisite beauty, and in the center, a scherzo of fiendish difficulty if dazzling virtuosity.
Next week, by no means coincidentally, Rostropovich will open his program with another great Manfred manifestation, the overture to Schumann's great score.
There were times last night when it was tempting to speak of the new luster Rostropovich is imparting to the orchestra's strings. Their radiant texture in the Astarte theme and their gleaming tone in the third movement sounded more burnished and fresh than before. The brass were superb in the long and taxing music, as, for the most part, was the entire ensemble.
Rostropovich leads the music with a deep and fiery personal passion. It is hard to think of a moment in which the music could have been presented more persuasively, other than in a frew tricky spots in the scherzo.
The Brahms symphony was another matter. Often beautifully shaped and played. It was taken in moderate tempos, especially at the beginning where Brahms calls for allegro non troppo. While Rostropovich sustained a basic pulse evenly throughout most of the movement, the extreme moderation made it difficult for the music to move when it needed too.
Nor was the orchestra in top form in the Brahms. Flutes and clarinets disagreed in pitch at the beginning, and the initial chord of the final movement was not properly prepared in the brass. There are, however, details out of a large pattern, much of which was admirable.