The second week's program of conductor Christopher Hogwood's appearances here with the National Symphony turned out to be a more intimate affair than last week's all-Mozart extravaganza.
Played last night for the first of five times at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, the program was designed -- as usual with Hogwood -- for instruction as well as pleasure.
One theme was the Baroque concerto, with examples by Handel, Bach and Vivaldi, all played with the light inflections, strong beat and impeccable Baroque style that one expects of the conductor. As Hogwood the professor explained to the audience, "During the baroque period, the term 'concerto' covers a multitude of sins." That was his way of saying that these three works didn't have very much in common -- and even less in common with the concerto as the virtuoso vehicle that it became in the 19th century.
The opening Handel Concerto Grosso in G, Op. 6, No. 1, represented in its four movements that form at its grandest. Its effects are broad, its mood extroverted. The opening is proclamative in the same way as the great choruses from the oratorios. The third movement is a real dance, played last night with gusto.
Then came the most introverted music of the evening, the Bach Concerto in D Major for Three Violins, Strings and Continuo, BWV 1064. It is, in fact, an arrangement by Hogwood of the well-known three-harpsichord concerto. While Hogwood grants that the form in which this work "came down to us" is the three-keyboard version, he argues that on analysis it is "clear" that this is not the combination for which Bach originally wrote the piece. The three violin soloists -- William Steck, Bok-Soo Kim and Virginia Harpham -- sounded lustrous, especially when playing in unison.
Vivaldi's Concerto in C for Two Trumpets -- Adel Sanchez and Steven Hendrickson -- blazed forth in Baroque splendor
The other theme of the program was the juxtaposition of these 18th-century works with neo-Baroque 20th-century compositions that in ways imitate them. One such work, Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" Concerto, makes such ingenious use of expressive devices reminiscent of Bach that it is sometimes called, Hogwood said, the "Seventh Brandenburg." Yet on the surface it does not sound like Bach at all -- its harmonies are ambivalent, its accents intricately syncopated.
Then there was Martinu's "Tre ricercari," a work Baroque in form, but richly Romantic in sound -- a moving and unjustly neglected piece.
The evening ended in a tidal wave of Handel's "Water Music."