The year was 1940. In the middle of the worst Stalinization of socialist realism, Soviet composers managed to create several works which transcended the simple optimism prescribed by the party and sang instead of the triumph of the human spirit. It was the year of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," of Khachaturian's Violin Concerto, of Shostakovich's Sixth Symphony -- and of Miaskovsky's Symphony No. 21, which entered the repertory of the National Symphony Orchestra last night at Kennedy Center.
There are shadows of Prokofiev's strings in this one movement fantasy, which also has been compared in its intensity to Barber's First Symphony. It begins with a layering of cello, violin, then viola drizzles, leading to brief turbulence over the same melodic materials and closing in repose. Mstislav Rostropovich's conducting may grow more expansive in time, but he made a beautiful case for Miaskovsky at this premiere performance while obtaining from the NSO string sections some of their most ravishing sounds this season.
At the heart of last night's program was the Cello Concerto by Robert Schumann, with Pierre Fournier as soloist. With the outline of a chamber piece, the concerto demands more delicacy than bravura, and this Fournier lovingly provided. It was a performance which charmed the audience with its intentions if not always its execution, as Fournier's concentrated upper range and faultless legato more than made up for several lapses in pitch. Rostropovich, no stranger to the work, led soloists and orchestra with an overriding sense of the long line, sensitively mirrored in Fournier's stirring cadenza.
The romantic program, which will run through tomorrow in the Concert Hall, also included Schubert's Symphony No. 3 and Straus' "Til Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks."