A young Russian-born pianist, Sergei Edelmann, made his debut here last night with the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center. He played the Beethoven First Concerto, a work cast in a Classical mold, but Edelmann's way with it suggested that he leans in the Romantic direction, as do so many Russian players.
And his dashing, commanding demeanor further enhances the impression of a Romantic player. Edelmann is a very tall, handsome fellow with a dramatic shock of brown hair, who turned on easy matinee-idol smiles to the audience in his bows.
Throughout the concerto, Edelmann was impressive. But the young pianist -- who came to the United States with his parents five years ago and has studied at Juilliard -- was at his most compelling in outwardly dramatic passages. This was especially so in the lengthy, Herculean cadenza that Beethoven wrote in the opening movement, a creation that outstrips the musical decorum in which the concerto is otherwise bound.
Playing this cadenza, Edelmann maintained a steady, urgent course as Beethoven carried his material through a parade of technically finger-twisting and emotionally dramatic complications. It was clear that Edelmann has a lot of power and accuracy.
Elsewhere, Edelmann's interpretation was fluent and straightforward. Dynamics were especially careful, with some lovely soft playing, as in that mysterious passage that leads into the recapitulation of the opening movement. Less apparent, though, was the subtle shading, particularly in lyric sections, that the most mature interpreters bring to the work.
There was a degree of precisely this, however, in the National Symphony's playing, under Gunther Herbig -- who was sensitive to the concerto's rhythmic and harmonic ambivalences.
Herbig and the orchestra then went on to Bruckner's majestic, hour-long Seventh Symphony, in a performance with some very fine brass playing. During the slow movement, Bruckner's blends of lower brass with various combinations of winds and strings were beautifully played, with none of the lumbering effect that resulted in some similar combinations in the Prokofiev Fifth under Charles Dutoit several weeks ago. And in the last movement, the massive brass chords were splendidly played.
Herbig's view of the work was straight and lucid. It lacked, though, some of the lofty sense of metaphysical drama that is in the symphony.