Before launching into the finale of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, soloist Shlomo Mintz, his bow dancing teasingly across the strings, caught the eye of conductor Riccardo Chailly, and each flashed a huge grin. It was a well-timed tension-releasing device, one that allowed a momentary catching of breath before Mintz and the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin directed their energies toward the Allegro vivacissimo.
The audience, caught up in the Mintz-Chailly chemistry, shared in the humor last night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, and understandably so. This was an alluring Tchaikovsky reading, with the focus placed clearly on the violinist. Chailly's restrained approach opted for crispness rather than lushness from the strings and paid particular attention to the winds, notably in the second movement's mini-chorale melody. For his part, Mintz was every ounce the firebrand, dispatching the tortuous first-movement cadenza as if it were a simple scale.
Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C Minor received a different treatment. Chailly, an emphatic conductor who pierces the air as he marks the beat, started slowly, building his symphonic edifice a phrase at a time. Under his baton, the Berliners' intensity gained momentum with each movement. Even the most glaring weakness, a lack of punch in the brass that became apparent midway through, remedied itself when the full orchestra, with strings soaring, at last broke free of the dark, minor melodies into the sunnier clime of C major.