Even the national anthems that opened last night's concert at the Kennedy Center by the Royal Philharmonic under Yehudi Menuhin moved quite deliberately.
And that's basically how the whole lovely evening of Mozart, Beethoven, Delius and Elgar went, all 2 1/2 hours of it.
It has always been the Menuhin style, whether he is wielding the bow, which he did not take out last night, or wielding the baton -- unrushed, contemplative, loving.
From the beginning, with Mozart's "Haffner" Symphony, one was struck especially with the quietness of the playing, just as Menuhin's pianissimo playing on his violin has always been one of its chief glories. In the Mozart slow movement, the soft sounds from the Royal Philharmonic violins were especially soothing. And in Beethoven's second concerto, with Andre Watts at the piano, one repeatedly heard the same sonorities.
The soft playing was most spectacular, though, in the solo clarinet in that hushed penultimate section of Elgar's "Enigma" Variations, the one containing the quote from Mendelssohn's "Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage."
European conductors are always complaining about not being able to get a true pianissimo from American orchestras. We heard the real thing from these Londoners.
The Royal Philharmonic is a fine orchestra in general, well-suited to Menuhin's manner, because it is very musical, but not particularly flashy. The strings are especially beautiful, with a mellow sonority.
In the Mozart performance, there were a few moments of minor raggedness. What mattered more, though, was the sensitive phrasing, the exact dynamics and the way the music seemed to breathe.
The Beethoven concerto was in the same mold. Meshing of the phrasing between Watts and the orchestra was outstanding -- producing a very slow and rapt slow movement, and a bracing interchange of wit in the finale.
The evening reached its most serene point in Delius' "On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring," with that soft clarinet once again in the spotlight.
The "Enigma" Variations were very broad, but they take that treatment well.
And, as a conductor, Menuhin had the control of pulse to bring it off with authority. Based on last night's event, I would say that Menuhin is underestimated as a conductor.
It was not a dazzling concert, but it was an awfully satisfying one.