Exxon/Arts Endowment conductor Fabio Mechetti led the National Symphony Orchestra Thursday night at Wolf Trap in one of its much-loved all-Tchaikovsky evenings. Complete with cannons for the "1812" Overture, the concert received substantial applause, much of it well deserved. And if you missed this show, there will be another chance to catch the festivities tonight.
The best playing came after intermission, with ballet music from "Sleeping Beauty." Selections from this lyrical masterpiece were marked by a fresh, even tone and noble pacing. The strings achieved a wonderful suppleness and flexibility, and the winds appeared smooth and confident.
Pianist Malcolm Frager offered the original version of the Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, a work whose well-known, slightly revised incarnation is arguably superior. Frager tended to be heavy handed in the opening allegro, at times jarring the orchestral balance and timing. He displayed more subtlety and keyboard prowess in the subsequent movements, giving the playful finale a charming ease.
The glorious "Festival Overture, 1812" opened beautifully, the hymnlike cello song flowing ethereally. Dynamics were rich, entrances precise for the most part, and the brass sweeping for the fail-proof crowd-pleaser. "Marche slave," also a favorite, was a little too halting in spots, and the low strings were not enough evident. But the jaunty second theme showcased some polished and sophisticated playing.