It was a program of programs yesterday afternoon at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The works in question, Copland's "Appalachian Spring" Suite and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36, depict events in explicit and subjective terms. Copland's imaginative use of orchestral colors suggests a rural spring setting that easily allows one's imagination to fill in appropriate details. Tchaikovsky's scenery, on the other hand, is that of his own battered psyche, where a disastrous attempt at marriage, prolonged illness and an acquired patroness stirred the creative juices.
Hugh Wolff and the National Symphony Orchestra painted each musical canvas with broad strokes. Their "Appalachian Spring" was picturesque and well defined. Not a gesture was wasted. The music proceeded naturally, at times majestically, with no overemphasis of details. Principal clarinetist Loren Kitt wove a pastoral line at the start, soloed eloquently in the Shaker folk song section and signaled the piece's conclusion much as he began. The Shaker tune title, "Simple Gifts," perhaps best summed up Wolff's conception and his charges' playing.
Just as Tchaikovsky's symphony was the product of emotional upheaval, so the orchestra's playing was reflective of Wolff's tactical change. The sound was spectacular, but not always in a positive sense. Trumpets and horns shouted the "Fate" theme, threatening to add another f to fortissimo when they repeated it during the recapitulation. The strings, sawing desperately to be heard, were virtually buried. Only the woodwinds, whose impressive ensemble work offered a brief respite in the first movement, seemed immune to this onslaught.
The winds favorably conveyed the second movement melancholy, whether stating a theme or simply trading phrases. In the Scherzo, they provided contrast to the swelling pizzicato strings, reminiscent of a balalaika orchestra. This superb rendering set the stage for the explosive finale, and another appearance of Fate. Once again, Fate knocked not with a rap, but with sledgehammer impact.