The best case that can be made for Dvorak's Symphony No. 8 is to have the Philadelphia Orchestra play it. And that they did beautifully last night at Kennedy Center, closing their Washington season in triumph.
Under the baton of Klaus Tennstedt, the Philadelphians brought out all the unabashed happiness of the work. It is one of Dvorak's least nationalistic pieces, void of anguished romantic touches as well.In short, it is a happy score from cover to cover, and this was a joyous performance. There were ringing, perfect trumpets in the second and third movements, cellos that sang like a choir of angels; and then there were the violins. The Philadelphia Orchestra violin sections certainly have no equal in this country and few matches in the world, and last night they shone their brightest.
Yet orchestra and conductor did not outshine Schlomo Mintz, making his local debut in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major. After a brief tempo disagreement in the andantino, Mintz took the lead with brio and unguarded beauty in this difficult work. His is an unusually even violin sound, particularly welcome in the zither-like passages that can turn so abrasive. Moreover he is an attractive performer, with a winning stage presence and formidable musical gifts that held audience and musicians tightly under his spell.
The concert opened with the overture to Weber's "Oberon," in a subtle and powerful reading where Tennstedt allowed hints of rubato and a wealth of dynamic contrasts.