The Rotterdam Philharmonic, which has been led by James Conlon for the past couple of years, brought a pair of Romantic masterpieces to the Kennedy Center's Concert Hall yesterday and then proceeded to establish itself emphatically as a superb Romantic orchestra.
The strings sang with a rich tone, the woodwinds displayed a fine variety of timbre, and the brass, while not as smooth as they might have been, were nonetheless pointed and confident. But it was the evidence of these highly expressive qualities in the most carefully controlled context that gave the performance such integrity.
Horacio Gutierrez was the soloist in a broad and powerful performance of Tchaikovsky's first Piano Concerto. Gutierrez is big and he plays the piano big, using his weight to produce lush legato lines with a minimum of punch. The pacing of the first movement was leisurely, and the structure unfolded to reveal a good deal more detail than is usually heard in this music.
If the first movement was leisurely, however, the second was slow -- but never static. The opening flute solo stated the theme hauntingly, and Gutierrez picked it up in an almost contemplative mood. By contrast, however, the finale was taken quickly, but always in balance, and here Gutierrez roared up the scale passage that led into the concluding Presto.
The other piece on the program was Liszt's "Faust" Symphony. The piece takes well over an hour to play but is one of those carefully crafted giants whose vastness is loaded with details. Conlon had both the micro- and the macrocosm well in hand. Here the orchestral discipline was most impressive, as the characterizations evolved through the marvelous sequence of the most exposed lines.
The male chorus that provides the concluding cap of mysticism was from the Choral Arts Society, and the brief but highly effective tenor solo was sung by John Aler.