Michael Tilson Thomas, in town for a two-week stint with the National Symphony, brought his own brand of flamboyance to last night's concert at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. In one way or another, each piece on the program was a personal statement, and, if the program as a whole said more about the conductor than about the music, it nevertheless pleased the audience, which rose to roar its approval at the end.
He opened the evening with an orchestral transcription of the hymn from "Hymn and Toccata" by Ingolf Dahl who, in his heyday, was Thomas' mentor. The piece is a perfect introduction to almost anything grand and important. It overflows with broadly contrapuntal textures and colorful sonorities. It doesn't have a lot to say, itself, but it does whet the appetite for what is to come.
In this case, what came next was the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Shlomo Mintz as soloist. Mintz approached this score, as so many of the finest violinists do today, with an air of gentle lyricism and of almost introspective wonder. He projected a sense of tranquility that was only underscored by the crisp clarity of his technique.
Thomas, however, did not seem to share any of this vision of the concerto at all, and, indeed, it was hard to figure out just what design he had in mind. Orchestrally, the first movement was full of weighty surges and ponderous passages, and throughout, Thomas had trouble keeping the momentum going.
Schoenberg's orchestration of the Brahms G Minor Piano Quartet was the other big work on the program. Once one stops trying to think of this arrangement as Brahms and takes it on its own terms, as a brash, romantic, Mahleresque experiment, it is rather fun. Schoenberg was not the greatest orchestrator, so this has its uneven moments, but it ended the evening with a splendid splash of color. -- Joan Reinthaler