It was Beethoven's turn last night in the Kennedy Center as Issac Stern reached the fourth of his five anniversary concerts with the National Symphony Orchestra.
Julius Rudel was an ideal choice to conduct the First Leonore Overture, the Fifth Symphony, and the Violin Concerto. He reads Beethoven in a manner reminiscent of Toscanini -- taut, superbly molded, yet never rigid. The neglected overture was a solid beginning that led to a powerful, highly appealing reading of the Fifth. The orchestra played handsomely for Rudel, and even an unexpected D from a horn where a C was intended did not mar things. The elephantine scherzo, in strict tempo, took on a special excitement as it led to the great outburst from the brass at the beginning of the finale. At the close, the audience's vociferous applause brought Rudel back to the stage a number of times, at the first of which the orchestra refused to stand with him, but sat and joined in the ovation.
Stern played the great concerto with consummate art. There was a freedom in his playing that came from a life of learning musical truths. After genuine grandeur in the opening movement, a Mozartean delicacy touched phrases in the slow movement and final rondo. The cadenzas were shaped with strength as well as great love. There were times when the entire performance -- soloist, conductor, and orchestra -- touched the incandescent. These arose from the interaction of the participants, each of whom seemed to understand precisely the thoughts of the others.