Somebody did an expert job of program selection for the American debut of the Niedersaechsische Staatsorchester Hannover (State Orchestra of Lower Saxony, Hanover) Saturday night at Wolf Trap. The program was Brahms's First Symphony and Tchaikovsky's Fourth, two cornerstones of the orchestral repertoire that are anything but lightweight, but have won enormous and well-deserved popularity. They are ideal material for an outdoor concert on a warm summer night, but they are also excellent showpieces for an orchestra making its first appearance that wants to display both its seriousness and its technical expertise.
The Hanover orchestra traces its origins back to a "Hofkapelle" (not simply an orchestra but a court musical establishment responsible for church music, concerts and opera) founded in 1636. It still gives operatic as well as concert performances, and has counted such figures as Heinrich Schuetz and George Frideric Handel among its conductors, but it began to attract international attention only in recent years under the leadership of George Alexander Albrecht, who became its general music director in 1965.
Albrecht conducted a solid, powerful interpretation of the Brahms symphony to open the program. In this and in the Tchaikovsky, which was guest-conducted by an American, Peter Tiboris, the Hanover orchestra showed a distinctive musical personality. It lacks some of the tonal opulence of the Vienna or Berlin Philharmonic, and the virtuoso polish of the Leipzig Gewandhaus or Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, but it is a fine orchestra able to give everything the music needs, with ease. Its technique is completely secure; its well-balanced tone lets fine details emerge not only in the transparent Tchaikovsky orchestration but also in the somewhat heavier Brahms; and it has ample reserves of energy for the music's most towering climaxes. Unlike many centuries-old European orchestras, it includes women.
The applause was long and warm at the end, when Tiboris brought Albrecht out to share the final bows, and it became ecstatic, with the whole audience clapping along in rhythm, when "Stars and Stripes Forever" was played for an encore. The famous piccolo solo (for which the audience was silent) might have been performed more fluently by an American flutist more at home in the music, but a standing ovation proclaimed that this orchestra has won a devoted audience in Washington after only one appearance.