We will have to wait a while for more information on how Andrew Litton conducts concertos and non-Romantic music. These were absent from his concert last night with the National Symphony Orchestra.
For the moment, such questions do not matter. This concert announced in no uncertain tones that Litton is a thoughtful, polished conductor. He controls the orchestra with precision and a clear, effective view of what he wants. He considers his music with care and produces interpretations that are authentic but clearly his own.
Above all, it was made clear that Litton is an exciting conductor.
The excitement reached its climax, appropriately, right at the end -- in the long, ponderous crescendo that ends Respighi's "The Pines of Rome." It moved slowly in Litton's hands -- more so than most conductors take it but not more than indicated in the score. This approach enhances the music's inner tension and makes the final release even more impressive. Pure brilliance was demonstrated earlier in a high-energy, briskly paced performance of the bright, busy "Villa Borghese" section.
Litton gave a dramatic, superbly phrased reading of "Macbeth," the first tone poem by Richard Strauss. The music clearly announces the composer's distinctive personality and embodies many of his characteristic gestures; it also says more with less fussing around than some of his final, overblown works in the form. Litton did it complete justice in a performance notable for its control of orchestral color and the precision of its dynamic shadings. Weber's "Euryanthe" Overture began a bit tentatively but quickly took shape. Schumann's Third Symphony, the most substantial music of the evening, had a thoughtful, lyrical interpretation, beautifully played. Litton's modest, effective reorchestration of some passages lightened and clarified the music's texture and enhanced its impact.
Throughout the evening, the orchestra played with special polish and attentiveness for a conductor whom it obviously likes and respects.