Three anniversaries are celebrated in this week's highly efficient National Symphony program: Szymanowski's 100th (Violin Concerto No. 1); Kodaly's 100th (Dances From Galanta) and Haydn's 250th (the First and 104th Symphonies that flank his enormous symphonic output like bookends).
Such a program may not be the most imaginative way to observe these dates, but it does take the orchestra a few paces off its beaten path and, with Rafael Fru hbeck de Burgos wielding his persuasive baton, it inspires some very impressive orchestral playing. Chances are the ensemble sound will be a bit more precise by Friday evening in a few passages of the Szymanowski, but otherwise, in last night's first performance, the NSO was in top form.
Violinist Wanda Wilkomirska, who soloed in the Szymanowski, obviously has a special affinity for this rhapsodic, brightly colored and rather mystical-sounding music, from its dreamy harmonics to the double-stops and fast arpeggios of its tricky cadenza. The orchestra's bright but soft-edged sound balanced the soloist's rather gentle tone almost perfectly.
The two Haydn pieces neatly show the tremendous development of the symphony during the career of the composer who was surely its godfather if not quite its father. Number 1 is a slight but by no means negligible romp for a handful of players, including a harpsichord to fill out the harmonies. Number 104, a masterpiece by any standard, also incidentally brings the symphony to the threshold of the Beethoven revolution. In both works, Fru hbeck and his orchestra showed a rare ability to generate musical energy without losing lightness or flexibility.
The folksy Kodaly dances made no significant musical statement but offered a splendid variety of tonal colors (particularly in the strings), some excellent solos and a dazzling display of rhythmic precision. They were also fun, for the orchestra as well as the audience.