Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
If things sounded a bit subdued Tuesday night as the National Symphony Orchestra began the opening concert of its 48th season, they certainly ended up with trumpets blazing.
Promptly at 8:30, Mstialav Rostropovich came onstage to lead "The Star Spangled Banner." He was met with warm, friendly applause, but not the kind of ovation you might have expected. It was as if perhaps people could not yet overcome the sense of loss caused by the bruising strike that kept the orchestra from beginning its season on Sept. 26.
The air brightened as Rostropovich led the newly enlarged orchesta in one of Schubert's two overtures patterned after the popular Italian opera curtain-raisers of his day.
This one, in D, with its open admiration of Rossini, gave the subscribers their first chance, for a fleeting moment, to enjoy the new flute ot Toshiko Kohno.
What followed was a far more dramatic exhibition of the new orchestra's power base, its 10 double basses and 12 cellos.There are now also, for the first time in the orchestra's history, 12 violas. But Henri Dutilleux's "Timbres, espaces, mouvement," which had its world premiere last night in its recently completed form, eliminates both violins and violas, making a glowing string sound out of the lower instruments and balancing them with all the winds and enlarged percussion.
It is frankly inspired by the sense of galatic energy that dominates Vincent Van Gogh's famous "Starry Night," Dutilleux feels, as do many of his colleagues, that music it as capable of suggesting large, cosmic movements as is painting.
The music, of which the first part was heard here last January, moves at a markedly slow pace throughout. Not a study in stasis - that technique wherein the complete absence of motion in implied - it nevertheless depends for much of its effect upon the slow building up of clusters of sound.
It is work that taxes the ingenuity of the players - passages of flutter-tonguing for the winds, theatrical glissandos for strings and percussion. At its conclusion, when Dutillexu came to the stage to join Rostropovich, many in the audience stood, and there was generous cheering and prolonged applause.
The final work of the evening was the second of Tchaikovasky's smyphonies, the C Minor, nicknamed, because of its use of Ukrainian folksongs and their relatives, the "Little Russian." To it Rostropovich brought a wealth of nuance, through it he happily laid before his listeners some of the pronounced strengths of the orchestra: The woodwind choir is a delight, and the brass were solid and brilliant in texture.
At the end of the symphony, there were long shouts, the audience was on its feet applauding, and the orchestra returned the compliment, with Rostropovich beaming at being back where he belongs.