A Baroque concerto, a romantic symphony and two inferior works by great composers are unlikely to add up to a satisfying program, although some particularly imaginative and artistic conducting might make such a package work. But last night's program by the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center was not saved by any such outstanding leadership.
Leopold Hager, known primarily as a conductor of opera, led the orchestra in a heavy reading of the Mendelssohn "Scottish" Symphony No. 3. It was preceded by one of Handel's least attractive organ concertos (Op. 4, No. 1, in G minor), a fine account of the Bach C Minor Concerto for Oboe and Violin, and a Cassation by Mozart that is notable primarily because the composer was only 13 when he wrote it.
The soloists in the Bach were William Steck, concertmaster of the NSO, and Rudolph Vrbsky, the symphony's first oboist. Steck might have asserted himself more forcefully at times, but together, the duo wove marvelous contrapuntal lines that floated over the orchestra. Here Hager had the ensemble under tight control, nicely balanced and light and incisive.
Hager himself was the soloist in the organ concerto. It cannot be easy to replicate the sounds and balance of the true Baroque instrument on the Kennedy Center's mammoth electronic wonder, but Hager might have found a better set of registrations than the ones that overwhelmed the orchestra.