Taking over the National Symphony for the next two weeks is Kiril Kondrashin, Rostropovich's fellow countryman and, as of a year ago, his fellow muscian in exile. Through last night's concert marked Kondrashin's debut with the orchestra, the 66-year-old conductor, who lives in the Netherlands, is a familiar figure in this country through his recordings and his guest appearances.
Tall and rather elegant in appearance, Kondrashin uses the orchestra with great restraint and sure propose. In the opening work, "Theme and Eight Variations" by the Russian contemporary composer, Boris Tchaikovsky, he handled the intricate rhythms and complex texture with a firm hand, never allowing himself to be seduced by the music's showier aspects. The work itself failed to live up to an exquisite beginning in which thematic fragments slowly took life. Despite some unusual and expressive orchestral writing, the end result seemed superficial.
Joining the orchestra for Mozart's Concerto in C Minor, K. 491, was the Romanian-born pianist Radu Lupu, whose talent is extraordinary. Sitting back in the same kind of straight red chair that the musicians use, Lupu delved deeply into the music to produce an interpretation of immense finesse and power. His playing, particularly the radiant simplicity he brought to the second movement theme, will linger in the memory for a long time.
In the closing D minor Symphony of Franck, Kondrashin drew fine dynamic contrasts from the orchestra, including a shimmering lightness from the strings in the second movement and a rich, well-balanced orchestral sound in the tutti passages, which were sparingly and effectively treated.