"Amadeus" was right; Antonio Salieri was a merely competent composer. At least, this is true of his symphony "Il giorno onomastico," which the National Symphony Orchestra played last night with Jean-Pierre Rampal conducting. The orchestra played as though it didn't like the music very much. And it was right. The themes sounded calculated, computed rather than inspired.
Salieri came in on the coattails of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, to whom the program was otherwise devoted. Even in the graceful, inconsequential Concerto No. 1 in G for flute the superiority of Mozart to Salieri was overwhelmingly obvious. And in the "Jupiter" Symphony, which closed the evening, Mozart was, of course, in a class by himself.
It might be asked further: Did Rampal the conductor get to the National Symphony's podium on the coattails of Rampal the flutist? Realistically, the answer is probably yes. The man has achieved international fame for his mastery of a solo instrument, not of an orchestra, and in the concerto he demonstrated yet again how richly that fame is justified. But he is also an expert conductor -- not glittery or charismatic, perhaps, but solid and polished; technically adept and deeply, instinctively musical.
He kept the ensemble sound precise even while busy with his flute. But in the much more formidable challenges of the "Jupiter" (which he conducted from memory), he showed his full value as a conductor and it was high. In this symphony, the most monumental before Beethoven's "Eroica," pace, balances, phrasing and accents were all excellent. An occasional tempo was on the brisk side, but not unduly so, and the music's form emerged with full clarity and impact. Among the notable points of his conducting was the excellent balance he gave to the woodwind sound -- a point that greatly enhances Mozart's music and, no doubt, one on which we should expect special care from a flutist-conductor.