The National Symphony Orchestra was in fine form last night for the first of several summer's end all-Beethoven concerts in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The evening marked the NSO debut of conductor Gerard Schwarz and the return after seven seasons of pianist Claude Frank.
The program began with an odd choice of bits and pieces from Act II of the ballet "The Creatures of Prometheus," Op. 43. The opening was marked by precision and dynamic splendor, and the violins in particular shone as they do only under the wisest of conductors. There was no cohesion to this suite, however, and the music meandered gracefully away from the listeners' attentions. The Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21, was more interesting. An impatient opening led to a delightful allegro that was as lean and as massive as a lovely young athlete. The tensions and hints of violence in the minuet were surprising but not unwelcome, and the entire score was alive with light and youth.
Claude Frank was the soloist for the Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 37. His approach was flashy, at times passionate but often vulgar. Schwarz drew magnificently cool playing from the orchestra. And while conductor and pianist succeeded in demonstrating diverging sensibilities simultaneously, the poetry of this great score was nowhere to be heard. There was a premature climax of a cadenza, loud and flashy but not terribly satisfying; the largo fell apart despite some lovely passsages; and the finale drew distinctive and forceful outlines that remained only outlines to the end.