With tonight's concert here, the National Symphony Orchestra has played in six of the 14 cities on its current European tour. The reviews of -- and the quality of the sound in -- the performances in some of Europe's major musical centers have been mixed.
The concert here was something of a disaster. Jubileum Hall is about the size of McDonough Arena at Georgetown University. It has no acoustics to speak of and no reverberation time at all. Thus, through no fault of the players, the music came out in harsh abrasive streams, completely unlike the glorious sound heard in Berlin. It sounded more like a pre-1925 recording of an orchestra.
On Wednesday night in Mannheim, the home of the Stamitz brothers and the famous 18th-century Mannheim Orchestra, the NSO played in the beautiful Rosengarten. They were surrounded on all sides by a wooden stage and played into a house with wooden floors. The result was warm and unforced beauty. As Rostropovich led the Tchaikovsky "Pathe'tique," the final movement reached emotional heights that stand unparalleled in recent years. He was rewarded with a 20-minute ovation in which the audience repeatedly broke into rhythmic applause.
Two prominent critics in Berlin spoke well of the orchestra and of Mstislav Rostropovich. "Never has so much symphonic joy taken place at a concert of a visiting orchestra as was the case last night with the National Symphony Orchestra under Mstislav Rostropovich," wrote Klaus Geitel in Die Welt. "Rostropovich is a musician of generous spirit, open-hearted, always an enthusiastic interpreter. . . . He knows personally the tragedy of Shostakovich, by whose side he lived for many years. The performance of the Fifth Symphony gripped so thoroughly that one was frightened. If the National Symphony were to record all of the symphonies of Shostakovich under Rostropovich it would be a musical sensation."
Writing in the Daily Mirror, Berlin critic Albrecht Du mling, said, "During the Barber overture for the 'School for Scandal' the orchestra played with astonishing skill. With intensive expression and rhythmic clarity, Rostropovich conducted the Beethoven Eighth as if it were the 'Eroica.' The Shostakovich Fifth received a performance of tremendous insight."
However, in Munich, Baldur Bockhoff wrote a review that said nothing good about either conductor or orchestra. "He draws out phrases and lines without bothering too much about details," wrote Bockhoff. "The orchestra has fought for half a century without success to move up."
Friday the orchestra plays in Hanover, and then on Sunday in Vienna.