Somehow,the Tchaikovsky "1812 Overture" has become our national Fourth of July carol, probably because we tend to associate Independence Day with cannons. The National Symphony celebrated the occasion at Wolf Trap Friday night, a couple of days early. Atmospheric thunder and lightning held off just long enough for the impressive artillery, off to the side of the stage, to punctuate the martial melodies and scare the kids in the audience, each shot making its mark twice, first heard and then felt in the pit of the stomach. Quartets of trumpets on each side of the audience contributed to the effect of being surrounded by triumphant armies, and conductor John Nelson whipped up a terrific orchestral uproar. Nelson's choral background was evident in the gorgeously shaped, vocally inflected hymn that introduced the Overture.
Nelson set the scene for these musical fireworks with a passionate reading of Tchaikovsky's "Francesca da Rimini" in which orchestral colors glowed and sonorities were glorious.
Pianist Vladimir Feltsman opened the concert with a masterly performance of the Rachmaninoff D Minor Concerto No. 3, so well prepared that each musical event led inevitably to the next without losing its own immediacy or intensity. Feltsman wrestled its climaxes to their peaks but made it sound easy. Nelson collaborated sensitively, and the pair deserved their standing ovation.