It would be peevish to judge harshly last night's concert at the Kennedy Center by the Philadelphia Orchestra -- considering that they were onstage less than an hour after a harrowing and exhausting six- to seven-hour bus trip here through the storm.
Players told of seeing jackknifed trucks, skidding cars and countless collisions. They didn't know themselves if they would make it on time.
And they arrived to find the Concert Hall sold out but only a little more than a fourth full. Many of those listeners did not arrive exactly on time, through no fault of their own. Thus it was particularly inconsiderate of conductor Eugene Ormandy to invoke his standard rule of beginning exactly on time.
Ormandy himself paid a bit of a price for this, because a substantial number of persons were locked out of the most satisfying interpretation of the evening, the least-known and first of Beethoven's three Leonora Overtures. It moved along with compelling momentum that reached a peak in the militant finale, which Ormandy and the orchestra made superbly aggressive and precise.
Otherwise, what promised to be an unusually stimulating sequence of performances somehow went wayward in one respect or another. For instance, Shostakovich's towering Tenth Symphony lost some of its height through wrongheaded cuts made by the conductor. It is obvious that Ormandy believes deeply in this symphony, as do an increasing number of music lovers.
When it first was performed, many critics condemned it with faint praise as simply a less slavish example of the composer's occasional propagandistic efforts in the cause of socialist realism. But the more it is heard, the more it sounds instead like a mighty break from this tendency -- a combination of pessimism that represents an honest and eloquent statement of Shostakovich's view of his country.
An equally moving work in a totally different mode was Berg's Violin Concerto. Last night's soloist, Soviet violinist Leonid Kogan, played it more like an exercise than the musical poem it is -- a problem made altogether too explicit at the end when concertmaster Norman Carol's own solo-playing thoroughly eclipsed Kogan's, both in beauty of sound and in tenderness.