Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
When Mstislav Rostropovich reached the end of The Ascension by Olivier Messiaen Tuesday night in the Kennedy Center, he walked quickly off the stage without turning to acknowledge the applause of the audience. It appeared as if the increasing intensity of the final movement, which is a musical and spiritual ascension, had, perhaps, overcome the National Symphony conductor for a moment.
However, when he returned seconds later, he threw out both arms toward Messiaen, who was in the audience, and precipitated a prolonged ovation that grew in enthusiasm until the entire audience was standing and applauding the composer and the orchestra.
The applause was different in character, but no less warm after Messiaen's "Exotic Birds," which followed, with the composer's wife, Yvonne Loriod, as the phenomenal virtuoso solo pianist, playing with and against an ensemble of winds and percussion.
If The Ascension sounds conventional today, it is filled with a glorious brass chorale, a solo woodwind quartet, and finally one of the overwhelming pages of writing in which the spotlight shines chiefly on the upper strings.
"Exotic Birds," on the other hand, is a kaleidoscopic array of sonoritles, durations, and rhythms, at times violent and percussive, but music of superlative controls.
Both Messiaen works were played to honor the composer's 70th birthday on Dec. 10.
No more dramatic shift of sound and mood could have been found than in the Brahms Fourth Symphony that closed the program. In it, for the first time in this abbreviated fall season, the strength of the new violas, cellos, and double basses emerged in all its glory. The National Symphony now has a balanced sonority throughout; it made the sound of the Brahms a thing of wonder.