During the Kennedy Center's first decade, many visiting European performing arts companies have offered styles and standards of music-making that could not be duplicated here in America. A few others have made you wonder why the trip across the Atlantic was necessary.
Last night's opening concert in the Center's two week Vienna State opera festival erased any doubts about this visit.
The Vienna Philharmonic under the vernerable Karl Boehm radiated the sort of lyric splendor that is especially Viennese, and comes from the special musical heritage developed in that city over the centuries.
In the Concert Hall, before a packed audience that included Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, the orchestra played the kind of program for which it is almost ideally suited, and the kind that audiences thirst to hear from the Vienna. There were two symphonies by that son of Vienna, Franz Schubert, followed by an unprogrammed afterthought -- Johann Strauss Jr's waltz from "The Beautiful Blue Danube."
The audience gave standing ovations to practically everything. Whatever may develop as singers and orchestra perform their four operas and subsequent concerts in the coming days, it was clear that just having the orchestra to Washington again was worth all the delays and hagglilng that disturbed the arrangements for the Opera's first trip here.
The Philharmonic's style of playing Schubert makes clear more than any American orchestra that he was one of the greatest of chamber music composers -- whether writing for small ensemble or large orchestra. The players do seem unconcerned with flash or precision at all costs. They probably would not play, say, Ravel's "Bolero" as spectacularly as a number of other orchestras.
Instead, they function more like a chamber music group.
The voices of the various parts of the orchestra sound in the most careful balance, in comparison to each other or in combination. The natural tendency of one group of instruments to surge ahead and blanket another in volume is avoided with great care. One example: the delicate blending of the flute and the first violins in Schubert's effervescent Second Symphony.
This quality, as in chamber music, comes from the players' careful attention to each other. There is a natural limit to a conductor's control over balance -- and last night Boehm didn't seem even close to the limit.
In Schubert's enormous Ninth Symphony, this wealth of tone, as opposed to volume, blended into a spectacular mixture. A special example: the rich wind choir in the scherzo's trio.
Sometimes one had misgivings about Boehm's interpretations. The noble ending of the Ninth Symphony's first movement was stretched a little broad, for instance. But the Philharmonic's style of playing depends less upon the idiosyncrasies of the conductor's ego than that of most orchestras. And the end result bears the stamp of the players performing as conductors.