The Kennedy Center's Festival of Festivals opened last night with a brilliant, breezy concert by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Now under the direction of Pinchas Zuckerman, the ensemble brought transparency and strength to works of the young Schubert, and the results of this first concert should signal a fine summer season.
There are few works of music as happy as Schubert's Symphony No. 5. It has been said that there the 19-year-old composer created his own rite of passage to maturity, paying tribute to Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven while finding his own beautiful voice. Zuckerman's reading was literal but far from routine, each lovely phrase precisely articulated without once lingering over its own beauty.
The joy of the Allegro was quite hard to contain, as the careful balance allowed the G-minor aura to linger over the development. Then the surprising harmonics of the majestic Andante barely paused before the Mozartean minuet received a Teutonic send-up where the strings raced with hefty certainty. The strict 2/4 tempo of the finale was adhered to by the letter of the score, without mannerisms or pauses.This was indeed the sound of youth.
If the rest of the concert was lighter, it was no less well executed. Zuckerman both played the violin and conducted Schubert's Polonaise in B-flat Major, an effortless luxury which pleased the crowd. The least successful offering was not by Schubert but by Bartok, the Divertimento for String Orchestra. Though impeccably played, it somehow remained both somber and fluffy, not an endearing combination.