Glorious orchestral color is the hallmark of the Orchestre National de France, but precision and rhythmic vitality characterize everything conductor Lorin Maazel touches. Together they made splendid music at the Kennedy Center yesterday.
The program was skewed toward the colorful, and the orchestra lavished marvelous woodwind sonorities throughout the Ravel "Rhapsodie Espagnole," meltingly passionate utterances in the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, and flashy brilliance in the Prokofiev 5th Symphony. Had this been the sum total of the afternoon's excitement, it would have almost been enough. But Maazel's incisiveness and the lyrical violin playing of Kyung-Wha Chung in the Bruch gave the concert a sense of satisfaction and rightness that does not always accompany brilliance.
Maazel is a show in his own right. His conducting technique is so graphic, so lovely to watch, that it alone is almost worth the price of admission . But its real virtue is in its effectiveness in leading the orchestra and here there was no doubt that conductor and instrumentalists were as one.
In the Bruch, where the orchestra must mirror the shape of the solo line, Maazel had them reflect every subtle nuance. In the Prokofiev third movement where decadence must vie with melancholy, Maazel delineated each change of mood with no hint of ambiguity.