The National Symphony Orchestra played its annual Tchaikovsky concert at Wolf Trap Thursday night, a spirited program led by Hugh Wolff, who is just back from his successful debut directing the Metropolitan Opera.
Wolff began with a graceful yet informal polonaise from the opera "Eugene Onegin." The pacing was sufficiently brisk, but the strings were a bit too lush.
The ponderous "Fatum" opened with bombast and closed the same way. In between there were some nicely restrained melodies, mixed with an occasional explosion, but to Wolff's credit, the piece was no more brash than was called for.
The musical highlight was the Piano Concerto No. 1, with James Tocco as soloist. Tocco brought the proper majesty to the opening chords and rarely lost control of the rangy, romantic concerto, save a little ruggedness in the latter part of the first movement. With Tocco's assistance, Wolff moved gingerly through the second movement. He then let the orchestra open up for a rousing finale.
Wolff enthusiastically marshaled the orchestra in the traditional closing piece, the "1812" Overture. He began with a solemn introduction in the cellos, and with military discipline he held a firm grasp of the brass throughout. A cloud of smoke rose from the fiery cannons as the program thundered to its conclusion.