Krzysztof Penderecki, this week's National Symphony guest conductor, has chosen to flank his own brilliant, eloquent Violin Concerto with both "Finlandia" and Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. Obviously, he is confident that his music can hold its own in such company, and he is right.
Penderecki is one of the most exciting composers alive, but last night he was equally exciting as a conductor. He holds the baton in his left hand, making vast, expressive, sweeping gestures and doing full justice to the other men's music as well as his own. He gave tremendous weight to the powerful opening of "Finlandia," through his choice of a solemn pace and his knowing use of instrumental color.
His Tchaikovsky obviously comes straight from the heart, and he generates in this music the kind of electricity that is evoked in the orchestra by Mstislav Rostropovich and very few other conductors. As in his own music, he sometimes gives Tchaikovsky's sound a special vitality, a sort of palpable, three-dimensional presence. His freshly conceived interpretation of the Tchaikovsky earned a standing ovation.
His concerto embodies the best elements of neo-romanticism: vivid color, lyric grace and emotional intensity, as well as forms that communicate immediately and directly with the average listener. The music makes virtuoso demands of both the orchestra and the soloist, and these demands were superbly fulfilled by the NSO and violinist Christiane Edinger, who has performed the concerto frequently with Penderecki and recently recorded it.