Conductor Yoel Levi and the National Symphony explored the heroic and hectic side of Beethoven last night at Wolf Trap, in a program devoted to larger-than-life characters and frenetic dances.
The pieces in question, the Overture to "The Creatures of Prometheus," Op. 43; music for Goethe's "Egmont," Op. 84; and the Symphony No. 7, received appropriately lively readings as the NSO players responded to Levi's flashing baton. Economy of motion and Levi may be mutually exclusive, but most of the sounds he elicited were congenial indeed.
The "Prometheus" Overture left little doubt as to the sort of Beethoven that would follow. Levi shaped bold phrases, punctuating here and there with dynamic surges. For "Egmont," soprano Kaaren Erickson and narrator Werner Klemperer helped translate Beethoven's concept of the doomed nobleman. Erickson as Cla rchen (Goethe's invented romantic foil), when extolling Egmont's virtues, pushed the limits of her range, which gave her voice a frayed quality. In a less extreme setting, she sang with utter conviction.
Werner Klemperer was in fine voice. As one who knows Beethoven better than most performers, he lent a forceful presence devoid of theatrics, and was at his best reading Egmont's soliloquy in the Melodrama.
Levi's conception of the Seventh Symphony seemed fuzzy in the opening movement. The slow introduction was overloaded with "events," defusing the release that occurs after strings and flute launch the dancing Vivace. His sense of proportion in the Allegretto, however, was right on the mark; the strings were extraordinary in this mystical movement, just as they were sawing away gleefully in the finale.