Last night, beginning their second live broadcast season on the Mutual Radio Network, conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and the National Symphony Orchestra introduced some NSO members to the nationwide audience in a special way. The evening's programming was made up entirely of works with virtuoso solo parts, and the solos were all played by members of the orchestra rather than the customary guest soloists.
Most of the programmed works were for multiple soloists, including a Vivaldi Concerto for four violins, Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat, Schumann's Concert Piece for four horns and orchestra, and Rimsky-Korsakov's virtuoso Capriccio Espagnol.
One piece had a single soloist: the Concerto for Five Kettledrums and Orchestra, composed by Robert Parris 25 years ago for NSO timpanist Fred Begun and still as fresh, vigorous and (no kidding) melodious as ever. Anyone who has watched Begun in action knows that his instrument involves great subtleties--not only the obvious variations of rhythm, tempo and dynamics available to any percussion instrument, but melodic possibilities and delicate shades of texture and nuance. Parris gave his soloist a wealth of roles, lyric and dramatic, and he put the timpani (the only percussion instruments used in this piece) in a dazzling variety of sound contexts from other parts of the orchestra. It is not only a fine display piece but a highly enjoyable musical experience, and the soloist, conductor and orchestra played it to the hilt.
Before the Capriccio, Rostropovich introduced the orchestra's new associate concertmaster, Elisabeth Adkins, who played Rimsky-Korsakov's brief but dazzling solos in exemplary style. She was one of six violinists featured in the program. Concertmaster William Steck, the busiest soloist in the Haydn work, was ably partnered by three of the orchestra's finest musicians: cellist John Martin, oboist Rudolph Vrbsky and bassoonist Kenneth Pasmanick.
Four more violinists--Ernestine Schor, George Marsh, Holly Hamilton and Jane Bowyer Stewart--soloed stylishly in the Vivaldi, and four members of the horn section--Edwin C. Thayer, Laurel Bennert Ohlson, David Whaley and Daniel Carter--played impeccably in the Schumann.
While the spotlight was on members of his orchestra, conductor Rostropovich was unobtrusively giving a virtuoso performance of his own. Conducting five works whose dates span more than two centuries, he showed himself equally at home in all their sharply contrasting styles. The well-styled baroque flavor of his Vivaldi and the delicately poised classicism of his Haydn were a special pleasure--one index of how much he has grown in his years with the NSO.