Mstislav Rostropovich, conducting the National Symphony Orchestra, captivated the audience last night at Wolf Trap in an all-Tchaikovsky program of warhorses.
Rostropovich's interpretations of four of the 19th-century Russian composer's works are like listening to an aural Rubik's Cube. There are many twists and turns, and revolutions of color; each section is precisely examined until the solution reveals itself.
Pianist Cyprien Katsaris made his solo debut with the NSO in the Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor. Katsaris' playing is both powerful and heartfelt. He looked uncomfortable on stage, his expression transforming from concern to disbelief to relief when difficult passages were conquered. Katsaris' articulate pianism, despite occasional muddiness of tone or aborted phrasing, had a real sense of urgency and drive. He acquitted himself well in the orchestral mix, never once being overwhelmed by the supporting musicians.
Possibly the greatest musical rouser of all, the "1812" Overture, was punctuated by off-tempo cannon explosions that brought the house down, and the audience up on their feet, applauding, cheering and whistling.
The program opened with "Capriccio italien" and also included the "Romeo and Juliet" Overture-Fantasy. Both interpretations grandly emphasized the freshness and vigor of Tchaikovsky's penchant for sparkling melodies and dramatic tension.