It is impossible to listen to the Dresden State Orchestra without a keen sense of its distinguished history, one that includes having such resident conductors as Weber and Wagner, and participating with its artistic companion, the Dresden State Opera, in the premieres of all the major Strauss operas. And that's merely a sampling of past glories. Herbert Blomstedt, the orchestra's current music director, is alerting the world through tours and recordings that maintaining high standards of performance is as important as taking pride in accomplishments.
In their Kennedy Center appearance last night, Blomstedt and his musicians chose Beethoven's Seventh Symphony and Strauss' "Death and Transfiguration" to display these standards. Blomstedt's interpretative approach was as consistent as it was clear: reproduce the composer's ideas as precisely as possible. Hardly an innovative idea, to be sure, but when a conductor has an orchestra that is able and willing to cooperate (and the Dresden is definitely that orchestra), even familiar works can take on a welcome freshness.
Conservative tempos aided ensemble precision, particularly in the Strauss tone poem, where the intricacies of rhythm and counterpoint are often obscured. The orchestra's tonal unity, particularly in the string section, was clearly heard in the beautifully balanced Allegretto of the Beethoven symphony.
The one unfamiliar work on the program, Dresden native Udo Zimmermann's "Sinfonia come un grande lamento," alternated intense lyricism in a late 19th-century garb with more modern massed sonorities. Zimmermann's experience as a composer of several operas gives this work a compelling sense of direction that both conductor and orchestra captured brilliantly.