Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos conducted Beethoven's Eroica Symphony on the first half of last night's National Symphony concert in the Kennedy Center and closed the evening with the Ravel transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
Each work succeeded in readings of widely differing characteristics. The Beethoven was taut and terse, led with a driving efficiency that never sounded cold-blooded. Tempos were on the rapid side; everything was precisely controlled by conducting that was at times nearly motionless. The scherzo went in metronomic fashion, with unusually clipped staccatos, but that fashion had supplied ample power to the slow movement and did so equally in the finale. One of the finest touches in the symphony was the timing, brief and just right, between the third and fourth movements. It is an often neglected but virtually important matter.
If Fruhbeck seemed to observe the symphony somewhat from the outside, he plunged deeply and intensely into the familiar Mussorgsky/Ravel portraits. While the orchestra played with tone that was often sumptuous, there were blips from the horns and brass, as there had been in Beethoven, that suggested that the rehearsals had been long and strenuous. Special honors go to the saxophone player who conjured up magicial versions in The Old Castle, ending on a long-held note of wondrous texture.
The concert is being repeated tonight and Friday at 8:30, and tomorrow at 7.