Of all the music and memories for which we are thankful today, a special place will be held for last night's concert by the Maracaibo Symphony of Venezuela at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. In familiar works by Falla, Bartok and Tchaikovsky as well as in a world premiere by Middendorf, this orchestra and its conductor were easily in the very top ranks of music-making in the Americas.
Conductor Eduardo Rahn, a native of Maracaibo, is an intelligent musician with persuasive analytical gifts. His meticulous attention to rhythmic subtleties and precise musical values, together with his respect for the architecture of the score, were reminiscent of a young Herbert von Karajan. If this approach was not romantic, it was never less than authoritative. More than that, it was revelatory in music of Falla and Bartok. And he could not have asked for more responsive playing.
The second suite from Falla's ballet "El sombrero de trest picos" has seldom been this gorgeous. Its beat was that of a dancer's pulse, its dynamic shadings were hypnotic. In the "Miller's Dance" the wind playing was impeccable, with particular mystery in the oboe's voice. In fact, all the solo work was impressive throughout the evening. The brass section recalled the Chicago Symphony's, and the violins had the smoothness of fine silk.
Joe'n Va'squez played Bartok's Concerto for Viola and Orchestra. The young Venezuelan approached the score as if it were attractive, never sacrificing tonal beauty to the gods of Bartok's style. It was a commanding reading.
The evening was also the occasion of the world premiere of "Fantasy for Maracaibo" by J. William Middendorf. It was forgettable schlock, a waste of good musicianship. The Maracaibo Symphony must have had its reasons to play this work by Middendorf, who happens to be the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States. But these could not have been artistic.