On Monday the National Symphony Orchestra is off to tour Europe and nothing could be a better showcase for them in their travels than the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony as they performed it last night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The piece is played so often and known so well that it is not easy to say anything new through its colorful splashes of sound, but Mstislav Rostropovich has managed to do so. He has focused on the music's pacing, pushing phrases that some conductors linger over, resisting ritards at climaxes but at the same time surprising occasionally with unexpected rubatos.
The orchestra sounded unusually well groomed and solo assignments were handled expertly.
Wendy Warner, 18 years old and a student of Rostropovich's, was the soloist in the first of the two cello concertos that Shostakovich wrote for Rostropovich. With a bunch of competition triumphs under her belt, Warner is now off to continue her studies at Curtis and, if last night's performance was any indication, her future should be an interesting one. This piece does not call for the sort of broad lyricism that brings out the ham in so many very young artists. It is full of knotty technical challenges, phrases that demand attention to delicate details, careful shaping and a sure sense of direction. Warner managed it all with authority and poise and concentration and drew a standing ovation for her efforts.
The program opened with an operatically conceived performance of Mozart's Symphony No. 39 that was earnest but contrived and not much fun.