If symphonies had personalities, Beethoven's Fourth would possess an extraordinary humility. Long overshadowed by its next of kin, his revolutionary "Eroica" and the immensely popular Symphony No. 5, it received an exemplary performance from Mstislav Rostropovich and the National Symphony Orchestra Saturday evening at the Kennedy Center, but, alas, was followed by Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5.
Rostropovich's Shostakovich, which was particularly appropriate for this program, the 25th annual U.N. Concert and Dinner, rendered superlatives superfluous. Brooding darker tones contrasted with light that burst into great swaths of color. Winds were clearly delineated beside lustrous strings, brasses poured forth aural gold, and percussion capped climactic passages with metallic showers of sound. As one heard the largo's gradual crescendo, ever so taut, relentless, the ears became a gateway to the heart, where myriad shades of pathos intermingled before subsiding into a note of hushed resignation. The orchestra then sprang into a savagely intense allegro non troppo.
Beethoven's Fourth was marked by balanced parts and thoughtful phrasing throughout. Rostropovich's hands were imbued with eloquence, shaping a phrase here, guiding a motif smoothly from cellos to violas to violins, pulling a solo voice into prominence. The orchestra was so finely synchronized that at times it seemed as if that great collection of voices had simply become his cello.