Caldwell and Watts proved a combination to shout about last Saturday night at Wolf Trap and the audience happily provided prolonged, vociferous shouting.
With Sarah Caldwell conducting the National Symphony Orchestra with special skill and style, pianist Andre Watts played not one but two concertos: the G Minor by Saint-Saens and the Liszt A Major. Both are dazzlers in the grand manner of the 19th centruy, and both received their full measure of brilliance as well as poetry.
Watts took the unaccompanied opening of the Saint-Saens in precisely the right broad-scaled freedom to emphasize its close parallel to the great G Minor Organ Fantasy of Bach. From this he and Caldwell moved into the body of the work with a tight-knit coordination that paid off in the flashing scherzo and the prestissimo finale. It was as absorbing to see Watts keeping an eye on Fred Begun's timpani when the timpani and piano had intricate interlockings as to note Watts moving his gaze over to John Martin as the cellist played beautifully the rapturous solos that dot the liszt.
It was obvious to all at the close of both concertos that Watts found in Cladwell a companion-in-arms with whom the making of music was a particular joy. Under Caldwell's leadership, the orchestral players matched Watt's articulation in ways that created rare excitement. Both concertos were grand triumphs.
Caldwell preceded the Saint-Seans with what is probably the best symphony ever written by a 17-year-old, the work of Bizet. Through most of the Bizet, Caldwell had the orchestra playing with the polish and zest that lies in three of the four movements. And for the slow movement, the violins sounded lyrically handsome. Only now and then would a touch more sparkle have afforded the ultimate champagne fizz to the proceedings.
The second of Ravel's suites from "Daphnis and Chloe" closed the evening. Its opening was unfolded with great breadth and beautiful appreciation of its mounting tensions. The signing motif that follows shortly thereafter was a touch rushed, and oboe solos that had been radiant in Bizet and Saint-Seans were a trifle out of tune. But Caldwell took the measure of the Ravel with a keen ear and delivered it to her listeners in a way that gave much pleasure.