In the early days of the association between Mstislav Rostropovich and the National Symphony Orchestra, there were those who had real concerns about the way the orchestra was going to sound under him. He was pushing the players so hard for intensity that the sound itself sometimes lost its resonance and turned hard, especially in the upper strings and brass.
Well, if that drove you away then, it's time to go back and listen again -- perhaps for this week's all-Tchaikovsky program.
If ever there were a test piece for how the orchestra's sounding, the "Manfred" symphony, which is the centerpiece, would be it.
And, at last night's concert, not once in Manfred's 50-plus minutes did the sound get out of hand. Rostropovich sought, and got, a rich, mellow blend. He has mastered the trick of keeping power in reserve, so that balances do not get out of hand and climaxes do not have to be forced. Thus the mighty peroration of this masterful work unfolded, organ and all, quite serenely; everything was in focus. One may disagree with details of the interpretation; I thought that the tragic first movement was so slow that some of the pulse was lost during the frequent pauses. But the overall achievement speaks for itself, especially coming as it does on the heels of last week's superb Mendelssohn "Midsummer Night's Dream".
Earlier in the concert, there were the Rococo Variations for cello, with soloist Maria Kliegel, who won first prize in the Rostropovich competition last month in Paris. She is a cool, polished cellist, with substantial power, who is less inclined to dig into the instrument than Rostropovich himself.