It was lovely at Wolf Trap last night. As if to celebrate the park's 10th birthday, the temperature was moderate, the humidity low. There was a mist around the moon and nearly 5,000 people on the grass and in the shed to appreciate Beethoven and Brahms.
Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos conducted the National Symphony with Andre Watts as soloist. The orchestra was in excellent form, strengthened by the presence of its incoming new first oboe, Rudolph Vrbsky. If the Egmont Overture at the beginning of the evening was somewhat bland for a while, lacking the tension and dramatic thrust of its story, there was nothing missing to make the E Flat Concerto of Beethoven a memorable affair.
Watts combined unusual grace where it was appropriate with the kind of basic rhythmic pulse that gives the music the essential vitality. There was as much splendor in his shading of scales as in the drama with which he placed each note of the arpeggios that are so crucial a part of the concerto. Fruhbeck provided sensitive balance and flawless precision from the orchestra.
The Fourth Symphony of Brahms can take on varying lights, depending upon the mood of its conductor. It can be stern or melting, aggressive or yielding. Last night -- was it the mildness in the air? -- the music came out like a succession of songs, one golden melody following another. There was power where it belonged and appropriate intensity. But it was mellow. And lovely.