Howard Mitchell spoke to his audience of warmth and thanks at the Kennedy Center last night before leading the National Symphony Orchestra. The program was an evening of memories and tribute. But, as always, memory created its own surprises, and the concert turned out to be one of the most exciting of the season.

At the heart of the delights was Khachatruian's Violin Concerto. In the the right hands, the piece looks not so much to the crowd-pleasing strains of the composer's "Gayne," but rather farther ahead to the powerful dramatic lyricism of the ballet "Spartacus." That and more was the case last night, as violinist Eugene Fodor threw himself into the score with fevor and commitment not often heard on any stage.

Fodor is an American treasure. His is the ideal blend of craft and passion, with a tone that is not particularly large yet is always commanding. There was fire in his initial attacks amid the almost barbaric rhythms of the first movement, and the cadenza was nothing short of incantatory. The NSO was in fine technical estate, playfully gruff cellos acting as clever foils for Fodor's seamless legato in the elegiac andante. His soft lines floated like moonbeams after each orchestral crescendo, and the Florentine shadings of his golden sound in the intricate last movement drew loud bravos at the close. Here is an artist who must be brought back more often.

The concert opened with a lively reading of Beethoven's First Symphony, that C Major farewell wink to the 18th century. And it closed with Hindesmith's powerful "Mathis der Maler" Symphony.