Last night's National Symphony Orchestra program triumphantly violated nearly all the rules. There was no concerto with a big-name soloist -- in fact, nothing at all from the basic repertoire. None of the music was difficult to enjoy, and all of it was fairly well-played, some of it superbly. But nothing was really familiar.
Bruckner's First Symphony has a scherzo whose galumphing outer sections recall his more familiar Ninth. The music, though unfamiliar, is instantly recognizable as the work of Bruckner, who is recognizable as a disciple of Wagner. There is a splendidly lyrical first movement, the kind of slow movement that dreams are made of, and a dazzling, fiery finale that sets the pulse racing. It was by far the best-performed music of the evening.
Haydn's Symphony No. 67, which is heard even less often than Bruckner's First, is brilliantly inventive music, with a very fast first movement in 6/8 time that almost sounds as if it is trying to be a finale. The rest of the work hovers ambivalently between symphonic and chamber music. Both the minuet and the finale have striking sections (particularly unexpected and particularly beautiful in the finale) where the orchestra takes a rest and lets two or three string players do the work. But the jewel of this symphony is the Adagio -- a simple bit of instrumental song with a serene, otherworldly chamber music texture.
The evening opened with the orchestra's first performance of the overture to "Many Moons," an opera by Dan Tucker, who earns his living writing editorials for the Chicago Tribune. He is a talented musician with a flair for melody. The segments did not seem to hang together with any inexorable logic in the overture, but each was enjoyable and they complemented and contrasted with one another effectively. In this work and parts of the Haydn, the ensemble sound might have become more polished with a bit more rehearsal, but Rostropovich showed an impressive ease in the styles of Haydn and Bruckner.