Morton Gould's "Notes of Remembrance," which received its premiere at the National Symphony Orchestra's concert last night, is a vivid, accessible work that can stand on its own. But "Notes" was commissioned by the American Symphony Orchestra League in memory of its late vice president, Ralph Black. Writing for a career devotee of symphonies, Gould handed in a proper symphonic devotion -- a stylistic collage evoking Black's favorite tunemeisters -- Mozart, Rossini and Strauss. Playing up both the nostalgic and irreverent aspects of the piece, Mstislav Rostropovich communicated much even to those in the audience who weren't wearing ASOL name tags.
Shifting gears from Gould's gentle mood, the NSO became a bow-shredding factory for David Ott's Concerto for Two Cellos and Orchestra. Indeed, two soloists pitted against each other and the orchestra promised some fascinating struggles, which Ott seemed determined not to deliver in conventional ways. In the Andante Cantabile, NSO cellists Steven Honigberg and David Teie shared equally in the great tonal wealth that grew from a melodic germ. Likewise, in the dazzling Allegro con Brio, written in a sturdy, danceable triple meter, oppositions emerged very subtly between the cellists' attacks. In the cadenza, which whizzes by with a theme from an earlier movement, contrasts began to take shape between Honigberg's rich, romantic phrases and Teie's leaner, more angular sound.
This fascinating piece, deservedly a fixture on NSO programs, might be faulted for some cumbersome transitions -- a combined result of Ott's push for every note to mean something and Rostropovich's unrelenting fever pitch.
Just because one expects from Rostropovich a full, impassioned reading of Tchaikovsky doesn't necessarily mean that one is prepared for the staggering impact of a performance of the "Pathetique" Symphony like last night's. The rubato was heavy, even for Rostropovich, but there was also a sharp sense of personal utterance and plenty of encouragement for each section to display its unique qualities.