The Philadelphia Olrchestra, under the baton of guest conductor Aldo Ceccato, offered a remarkable all 20-century program at the Kennedy Center last night, something few ensembles ever dare to do. Thanks to Ceccato's intriguing choice of material (which, unlike many contemporary concerts, required the participation of the full orchestra throughout) and the general quality of the playing, the venture was largely successful -- never less than interesting and often gripping.
At the center of the performance was Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra, subtitled "The Age of Anxiety." Alternately brash, introspective, jazzy, lyrical, self-indulgent and eloquent, the work is quintessentially Bernstein, and each of those qualities emerged by means of Susan Starr's exceptional pianism, the orchestra's vivid support, and Ceccato's thoroughly sensitive direction. The composer, in town to conduct his Third Symphony this week with the NSO, was on hand to enjoy the enthusiastic applause from both the audience and the musicians.
In addition to Penderecki's "De Natura Sonoris" No. 1 (the sort of sound-effects piece that makes one happy that he has now moved on to a more meaningful style), the program also featured Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony. Both received competent and at times exciting accounts, benefiting from the orchestra's uncommon ability to summon vast waves of sound, but the latter could have used a bit more emotional depth.